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Karel Schwarzenberg, former Czech foreign minister and nobleman, dies at 85

PRAGUE (AP) — Karel Schwarzenberg, a former Czech foreign minister and a member of a European noble family has died. He was 85.

Milroslav Kalousek, his long-term political ally, and the Foreign Ministry confirmed on Sunday his death.

“It is with deep sadness and respect that we remember Karel Schwarzenberg, who left us today,” the ministry said. “As a two-time foreign minister and Vaclav Havel’s chancellor, he shaped our foreign policy and always proved with his actions that that he was a true democrat.”

Schwarzenberg had been hospitalized in Prague since August with heart and kidney problems and was flown several days ago to a clinic in Vienna, the Austrian capital, where he had lived for years.

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“A big man in all aspects has died,” President Petr Pavel said. “The service for his country was a natural mission for him.”

Born Dec. 10, 1937, in Prague, Schwarzenberg and his family had to flee Czechoslovakia after the Communists took over in 1948 and they lived in exile Austria. He studied law and forestry at universities in Vienna and Graz, Austria, and Munich, Germany, but but didn’t finish his studies as he had to take care of the family’s estates in Austria and the German state of Bavaria.

After the 1989 Velvet Revolution led by Vaclav Havel, Schwarzenberg returned home and became Havel’s chancellor — head of the presidential office — when the playwright turned politician was elected president.

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Schwarzenberg served as foreign minister from 2007-2009. During that time, he and U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signed an initial agreement to base a U.S. missile shield in Central and Eastern Europe. The system designed to protect U.S. allies from a bellicose and unpredictable Iran was later scrapped by President Barack Obama.

In 2009, Schwarzenberg together with Kalousek established a conservative political party, TOP 09, which he led until 2015 when he became its honorary chairman.

He again took over the foreign minister post between 2010 and 2013.

In 2013, Schwarzenberg ran for the largely ceremonial post of the Czech president but lost to the populist and then pro-Russian Milos Zeman in a runoff vote.

Before his political career, between 1984 and 1991, Schwarzenberg served as chairman of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights, a position that led him to seek compliance with human rights in communist countries, including his homeland.

Schwarzenberg helped established the Czechoslovak Documentation Center, which was based at his castle in Scheinfeld, Bavaria. It was an institution that collected banned literature and other materials related to anti-totalitarian resistance and independent thinking during the communist regime. Its collections are now in the National Museum in Prague.

Schwarzenberg was a popular politician, known for his humor. When he was caught sleeping by photographers, he replied he sleeps “when they talk stupid.”

Schwarzenberg is survived by his wife Therese, son Jan Nepomuk and daughter Anna Karolina.