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Former Argentina President Néstor Kirchner Dies

Contender to succeed his wife, Cristina Fernández, in Argentina's election next year, dies from heart attack

The former Argentinian president, Néstor Kirchner, the current leader's husband and a contender to succeed her in next year's election, has died of a heart attack.

Néstor Kirchner, right, former president of Argentina, with Hugo Chávez of Venezuela. Photograph: Eraldo Peres/AP Kirchner, 60, was considered President Cristina Fernández's closest adviser and a major power broker in her government.

He died after being taken to the Formenti de Calafate hospital while suffering a severe heart attack, the presidency said.

"It was a sudden death"Kirchner's doctor, Luis Buonomo, told Reuters.

The former president, who underwent two arterial procedures earlier this year, died in the southern city of El Calafate. Fernández was at his side when he died, state television said.

The left-leaning Kirchner from the ruling Peronist party was president from 2003 to 2007 and oversaw Argentina's recovery from a devastating economic crisis. He was famous for his fiery speeches peppered with leftist rhetoric and outspoken criticism of political rivals, private companies and the International Monetary Fund.

The news immediately had great impact in Argentina.

"A great patriot has died," said Juan Carlos Dante Gullo, a ruling party congressman, to state TV. "This will leave a huge hole in Argentine politics. We will have to follow his example. Argentina has lost one of its greatest men."

The leader of the human rights group Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, Estela de Carlotto, said Kirchner "gave his life for his country."

"Our country needed this man so much. He was indispensable," she told radio Continental.

Kirchner, a likely candidate in next year's presidential elections, was secretary general of the South American alliance known as Unasur and also served as a congressman and leader of the Peronist party.

After meeting his wife at law school in the turbulent 1970s, the couple took turns in the political limelight. She was a close adviser during his 2003-2007 rule and he was a key economic adviser since she succeeded him in December 2007.

He was seen as a key contender in next year's presidential race and his popularity closely tracked approval ratings for his wife's presidency that rebounded from lows of about 20% alongside an economic recovery.

In their back-to-back tenures – criticised by some for side-stepping presidential term limits – Kirchner and his wife increased state control of the economy, intervening in financial and grains markets and maintaining price controls that analysts say have dampened investment in the energy sector.

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