Gyula Horn, a former Hungarian prime minister who played a key role in opening the Iron Curtain, has died at the age of 80.

Horn's death on Wednesday was announced by the Hungarian government and confirmed by the Socialist Party, which he led to victory in the 1994 elections.

Horn had been hospitalized in Budapest for several years, receiving treatment for undisclosed ailments.

He was best known internationally for his announcement as foreign minister in 1989 that Hungary would allow East German refugees to leave Hungary for West Germany, one of the key events which helped bring an end to communism in Eastern Europe.

At home, however, he faced criticism, especially because of his role in an armed communist militia which helped restore order after Hungary's anti-Soviet Revolution of 1956.