Kofi Annan, one of the world’s most influential diplomats, passed away Saturday at the age of 80. The former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner died after a “short illness,” according to a statement released by his foundation. He was surrounded by loved ones during his final moments. “Wherever there was suffering or need, he reached out and touched many people with his deep compassion and empathy,” the foundation said. Annan, the first black African secretary-general of the UN, has been credited with breathing new life into the world body and intensifying the focus on human rights and poverty during his two terms from 1997 to 2006. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the global organization in 2001. “Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good,” current UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement honoring the late diplomat on Saturday. “In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the organization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination,” he said. Former president Barack Obama was among those who paid tribute to Annan, remembering his “integrity, persistence, [and] optimism.” “Kofi never stopped his pursuit of a better world, and made time to motivate and inspire the next generation of leaders,” Obama wrote in a Facebook post.
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