Brazauskas helped usher in Lithuania's independence and later spearheaded the country's bid to join the EU and NATO. (photo: www.15min.lt)
VILNIUS - Former Lithuanian President and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, one of the country's most famous politicians, passed away this weekend after losing a long battle with cancer.
"We have lost a warm person and a prominent politician who had been at the wheel of state at challenging and difficult stages in the history of Lithuania. The memory of the strong and charismatic personality of the first directly elected President of Lithuania since the restoration of Independence will always stay in the hearts of the people of Lithuania," President Dalia Grybauskaitė said.
The former president died on June 26 in his Vilnius home at the age of 77. He had been undergoing treatment for prostate and lymphatic cancer.
Brazauskas was elected head of the Lithuanian Communist Party in 1988 with the support of the Lithuanian national liberation movement, Sąjūdis. Under his leadership, in 1989 the Communist Party of Lithuania broke away from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
In February 1993, Brazauskas was elected president of Lithuania with 60 percent of the vote.
As head of state, he launched Lithuania's bid to join NATO and the European Union.
He unexpectedly opted not to seek re-election in 1998, and quit politics. In 2001 he returned to lead the Social Democrats and was soon made prime minister, a position he held until resigning in 2006.