Austrian president dies days before term ends

VIENNA, Austria – President Thomas Klestil, who brought calm to an office frayed by controversy surrounding his predecessor’s past in the Nazi army, died Tuesday. He was 71.

Klestil’s second six-year term was to end Thursday.

He died shortly before midnight from multiple organ failure, officials at Vienna’s General Hospital said. He had been taken to the hospital by air on Monday after suffering heart failure.

Heinz Fischer, who won elections earlier this year, takes over the presidency on Thursday. Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel assumed the presidential duties when Klestil fell ill.

Earlier in the day, Dr. Christoph Zielinski said the president’s liver, lungs, kidneys and central nervous system had been damaged by the cardiac problem.

When he was admitted on Monday, doctors said they could not rule out brain damage as a possible result of lack of oxygen before hospital staff got his heart functioning again.

Klestil was widely credited with restoring Austria’s credibility following revelations that predecessor Kurt Waldheim served in Germany’s Nazi military.

Klestil distinguished himself by speaking out numerous times against Austria’s Nazi complicity during World War II, expressing sympathy for Holocaust victims during a first-term visit to Israel.

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