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Ailing wife of ex-German leader kills herself

SHARE Ailing wife of ex-German leader kills herself

BERLIN — Hannelore Kohl, the wife of former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, committed suicide and left letters saying she wanted to end her suffering from a long illness, her husband's office said Thursday. She was 68.

Her body was found Thursday at the family's home in the western city of Ludwigshafen, the Rhineland-Palatinate state interior ministry said. Her method of suicide was not disclosed.

Hannelore Kohl had suffered for seven years from a painful sunlight allergy that forced her to spend the last 15 months of her life at the family's home "without any daylight," the statement from Kohl's office said. She was also taking strong painkillers, it said.

Hannelore Kohl had virtually disappeared from public view since her husband's election defeat three years ago, though she supported him during a slush fund scandal.

Doctors in Germany and abroad could not alleviate the extremely rare ailment, the statement said.

"Due to the hopelessness of her health situation, she decided to end her life of her own free will," the statement said. "She conveyed this decision in farewell letters to her husband, her sons and friends."

Condolences poured in from Kohl's political friends and foes, including Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, who wished Kohl and the couple's two sons "courage and strength to live with this terrible loss."

Kohl made no immediate comment.

Hannelore Kohl, who married the future chancellor in 1960, stood firmly by her husband's side during his long political career — through his time as chancellor from 1982 to 1998 and during the scandal that enveloped him after he was voted out of office.

With her coifed blonde hair and blazers, Hannelore Kohl was a trim and elegant presence at her husband's side — both at receptions and relaxing on their annual jaunt to an Alpine Austrian lake.

One of her foremost goals was keeping herself and the couple's two sons out of the public spotlight as Helmut Kohl rose through the ranks in postwar West Germany's conservative Christian Democratic party, taking over as leader in 1973.

Mrs. Kohl, trained as a language interpreter, led a charity for helping accident victims, the Hannelore Kohl Foundation. A few years ago, she authored a cookbook with her husband that extolled the heavy German fare he loves.

Hannelore Kohl's allergy was triggered by a penicillin treatment in 1993. She acknowledged it was untreatable, and her condition worsened last year.

In a recent interview with the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, she said she was staying fit by swimming and walking. She expressed sadness that the couple's Berlin apartment was too bright for her to spend much time in.

In May, she was so ill that she had to skip the wedding of her son Peter to his Turkish fiancee in Istanbul, Turkey. But she won lavish praise in Turkey for supporting her son's choice of wife.

For many Turks, the wedding brought a symbolic olive branch from an old opponent. During 16 years in power, Helmut Kohl was seen in Turkey as one of the main obstacles to Turkey's efforts to join the European Union.

Helmut Kohl retained his seat in parliament after being voted out as chancellor and split his time between his native Rhine River region and the capital.

Hannelore Kohl was born March 7, 1933 in Berlin, the daughter of an engineer from Rhineland-Palatinate. She grew up in the eastern city of Leipzig until the end of World War II in 1945, when the family moved west.

She is survived by the former chancellor and their sons.