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Former Estonian President Lennart Meri Dies at 76

Estonia's first president after the collapse of the Soviet Union has died.

Lennart Meri was 76.

The Estonian presidential office says Mr. Meri died Tuesday at a hospital in Tallinn after a long illness.

Mr. Meri was president of Estonia from 1992 to 2001. During his two terms in office, he made winning NATO and European Union membership the country's top priorities.

He remained very popular among Estonians, despite tough economic reforms he implemented to bring the Baltic country in line for EU membership.

The White House says President Bush has sent his condolences to Estonia. He called President Meri a pioneering statesman and seminal figure in the struggle for freedom.