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Estonian ex-president Lennart Meri dies at 77

TALLINN, March 14 (RIA Novosti, Nikolai Adashkevich) - Lennart Georg Meri, who served as Estonian president from 1992 to 2001, and was also known as an outstanding writer and prominent public figure, died early Tuesday in the Estonian capital at the age of 77.

In 1990, Meri was appointed to the post of foreign minister. After Estonia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, he served as ambassador to Finland for a short period of time before being elected president in 1992. He was re-elected for a second and final term in 1996.

Estonian President Arnold Ruutel offered his condolences to the family of the late ex-president Tuesday and announced that March 15 would be a day of mourning in the country.

"As the head of state, Lennart Meri worked for the strengthening of our country's international relations," the president told Estonian state television. "His goals included Estonia's accession to NATO and the European Union."

Meri was born in Tallinn in 1929. His father worked as a diplomat between the two world wars. Having been raised abroad and educated in Berlin, London, and Paris, Meri was fluent in French, German, English and Finnish.

In 1941, after Estonia became part of the Soviet Union, the new administration exiled Meri and his family to Siberia. He later returned to Estonia to study history at Tartu University. After graduating in 1953, he worked as a dramatist in the Vanemuine Theatre, a professor at the Tartu Art School, a producer with Estonian radio, and a scriptwriter and producer for local film company Tallinnfilm.

He was also known as an author and translator of many books. He wrote about his travels and the history of Estonia and the Baltic region. He translated the works of prominent writers, including Remarque, Vercors, Graham Greene, Boulle, and Solzhenitsyn.

In 1988, Meri founded the Estonian Institute, a non-profit organization promoting ties with the West and a student exchange program. Ten years later, he was elected European of the Year. Meri was also active in environmental issues.

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