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France, Senegal Mourn Leopold Sedar Senghor - 2001-12-21

Celebrated Senegalese statesman and poet Leopold Sedar Senghor died Thursday in France at the age of 95. From Paris, Lisa Bryant has more on Senegal's founding president, who established one of Africa's first multi-party democracies.

France and Senegal are mourning the passing of Leopold Senghor, who ultimately became a son of both countries. In Dakar, West African leaders gathered for an economic summit held a moment of silence. And in France, eulogies are pouring in for the former Senegalese leader, who had split his time between here and Senegal for the past two decades.

In a statement issued Thursday night, President Jacques Chirac said poetry had lost a master, Senegal had lost a statesman, Africa had lost a leader and France had lost a friend.

Born in 1906 in a small Senegalese fishing village near Dakar, Mr. Senghor moved to Paris as a young man. He attended a French high school, and struck friendships with French intellectuals and with Georges Pompidou, the future president of France.

At the time, Senegal was a colony of France, and in 1932, Mr. Senghor was granted French citizenship. It was also in France during World War II, where Mr. Senghor began writing and publishing his first poems - and where he was later elected to represent Senegal in the French National Assembly, or parliament.

When Senegal won its independence from France in 1960, Mr. Senghor became the country's president. Twenty years later, he voluntarily relinquished power to his prime minister, Abdou Diouf.

But Mr. Senghor's career was not over. He continued to write, becoming a leading voice of negritude, or the black consciousness movement. In 1983, he was elected to the celebrated French academy. Fellow french academician and friend, Michel Deon, told France-Info radio Thursday that Mr. Senghor would be remembered not just for his writings, but for his sterling personality. Mr. Deon praised Mr. Senghor for leading Senegal with what he called "tact and authority."

But Mr. Senghor's life was also shadowed by tragedy. One of his sons committed suicide, and another died in a car accident. In recent years, Mr. Senghor had also been plagued by heart problems, among other health concerns. He was hospitalized last week in critical condition. Senegalese President Abdulaye Wade announced Thursday that arrangements are being made with Mr. Senghor's family for his funeral.