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Nestor Kirchner remembered as Latin American statesman

Nestor Kirchner, former president of Argentina, died Wednesday. Kirchner was married to the current Argentine president, Cristina Fernandez.

In this 2007 file photo, Argentina's new president Cristina Fernandez, left, and her husband, Argentina's departing President Nestor Kirchner, wave after Fernandez was sworn in at the National Congress in Buenos Aires. According to state television in Argentina, Nestor Kirchner died on Wednesday.

Jorge Saenz/File/AP Photo

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Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner — the country's most powerful politician along with his wife, current leader Cristina Fernandez — died suddenly Wednesday, the presidency said.

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

The news shocked Argentines, who by law were staying at home Wednesday to be counted in the nation's census. Kirchner's supporters planned a mass gathering for Wednesday night outside the Casa Rosada, Argentina's presidential palace.

Kirchner worked hand-in-hand with his wife to mantain the ruling party's hold on power. Even more than Fernandez, he was seen as the heir to Argentina's strongman Juan Domingo Peron and one of the few people capable of managing Argentina's unruly and chaotic political scene.

With him gone, Fernandez is likely to face many new threats to her leadership.

"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.

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