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Willy Brandt, led West Germany

Willy Brandt, a former West German chancellor who won the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize for seeking better East-West relations through his "Ostpolitik," has died, party sources said early Friday. He was 78.

Brandt, who served as chancellor from 1969 to 1974, died Thursday, said sources within Brandt's Social Democratic Party who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The exact cause of death was not immediately known. Brandt had been suffering from intestinal cancer for more than a year.

He had canceled an appearance last month at the World Socialist International Congress in Berlin, and his condition had been reported in German newspapers to be deteriorating in recent days.

Party sources did not say where Brandt died, but he had been spending the last few months in reclusion in his home in Unkel, near Bonn.

Brandt stretched a German hand of friendship to Eastern Europe with his landmark policy of reconciliation, known as Ostpolitik, in an era of East-West tensions. It won him the 1971 Nobel Peace Prize and ensured his place among the giants of postwar German politics.

But Brandt was forced to resign as West German chancellor in 1974 when a close aide was unmasked as an East German spy.

His raspy voice and long, dramatic pauses made him instantly recognizable in radio and TV broadcasts. His swept-back gray hair and craggy face gave him the unmistakable aura of being the grand old man of German politics.

Throughout his life Brandt spoke out for peace and disarmament.

"Nothing has meant more to me than the certainty that I have worked, not without success, to make the concepts of "Germany' and "peace' synonymous," Brandt once said.

He saw his vision come true when East Germany and West Germany became one country in October 1990.

Brandt had experienced the collision of rival political systems while serving as mayor of West Berlin in the early 1960s, when Communist East Germany threw up the notorious Wall. Brandt stood next to President John F. Kennedy when he made his famous "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech.

As chancellor, Brandt decided to resolve a bitter legacy of World War II, normalizing West German relations with nations that came under Communist rule after being ravaged by the Nazis.

A controversial policy at the time, Ostpolitik helped open these tightly controlled societies by making Western travel and commerce with them easier. This, in turn, anticipated political developments in the late 1980s when East Europeans rose up in peaceful revolts to oust authoritarian regimes.

The crowning glory was German reunification in 1990.

Brandt's influence and longevity made him the most prominent figure in the left-leaning Social Democrats.

In 1987, he stepped down as his party's chairman after the party hierarchy opposed his nomination of a non-German, non-party member to a key position.

After the two countries joined two years ago, Brandt savored his role as the oldest member of the all-German parliament.

But by fall of 1991, it was clear his influence on party policy had waned even further. The Social Democratic Party itself had been out of power since 1982.

Brandt was born Herbert Frahm, the illegitimate son of a Luebeck shop clerk, on Dec. 18, 1913, and was raised by his maternal grandfather, an avowed Socialist who inspired the youth to become involved in politics.

After the Nazis came to power in 1933, Brandt had to flee to Scandinavia because of his leftwing politics. He opened an office for the Social Democratic Party in Oslo, Norway.