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STRASBOURG, France – Current and former world leaders gathered Saturday to bid farewell to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, recalling him as a man who was instrumental in uniting Europe and bringing about reconciliation between former adversaries on the continent.
Kohl, who died June 16 at age 87, is the first person to be honored with an official memorial event by the European Union.
The ceremony at the European Parliament's seat in the French city of Strasbourg, close to the border with Germany, was the choice of Kohl himself, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said. Juncker describing Kohl as "a German patriot and at the same time a European patriot."
During his 16-year term as Germany's leader, from 1982 to 1998, Kohl spearheaded his country's reunification in 1990 and was an architect of the continent's common currency, the euro.
"Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves," former U.S. President Bill Clinton said, citing Kohl's willingness to put international cooperation before national interests.
EU Parliament President Antonio Tajani said Kohl deserved "a place of honor in the European pantheon" for unhesitatingly extending the hand of friendship to fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Iron Curtain.
Others scheduled to speak at the event are French President Emmanuel Macron and current German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Following the ceremony in Strasbourg, which was attended by over 800 guests, Kohl's coffin was to be taken to the German city of Speyer for a requiem Mass and military honors.