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Former Argentine President Nestor Kirchner died Wednesday after suffering heart attacks, state television reported.

The husband of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez succumbed heart trouble as the couple waited in their home in the Patagonian city of Calafate to be counted in the nation’s census. Fernandez was at his side when he died, according to state TV.

Kirchner, 60, had undergone an angioplasty after a heart attack in September.

Kirchner’s doctor told Reuters it was a sudden death. “There will be an official medical report,” Dr Luis Buonomo added.

A likely candidate in next year’s presidential elections, Kirchner was secretary general of the South American alliance known as Unasur and also served as a congressman and leader of the Peronist party.

He was considered Fernandez’s closest adviser and a major power broker in her government.

“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.”

‘Indispensable’

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.

Kirchner served as president from 2001-2007, bringing Argentina out of severe economic crisis and encouraging changes in Argentina’s justice system that set in motion dozens of human rights trials involving hundreds of dictatorship-era figures who had previously benefited from an amnesty.

He recently was appointed secretary general of the Union of South American Republics, or Unasur, and was preparing for an intense 2011 election campaign in which either he or his wife would run again to maintain their hold on power.

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