Bern: Former UN Secretary-General and Nobel Prize Laureate Kofi Annan passed away at the age of 80 on Saturday, prompting an outpouring of tributes from world leaders and diplomats.
Annan was the first black African to take up the role of the world's top diplomat, serving two terms from 1997 to 2006. He died in a Swiss hospital here after a short illness, with his wife Nane and three children -- Ama, Kojo and Nina -- by his side, the foundation named after him said.
Annan had been living near Geneva for several years. His home country, Ghana, declared a week of national mourning.
In a statement announcing his death, the Kofi Annan Foundation described him as a "global statesman and deeply committed internationalist who fought throughout his life for a fairer and more peaceful world".
"During his distinguished career and leadership of the UN, he was an ardent champion of peace, sustainable development, human rights and the rule of law."
Annan was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with the UN in 2001 "for their work for a better organized and more peaceful world." His tenure as the UN chief coincided with the Iraq War and the HIV/Aids pandemic.
He later served as the UN special envoy for Syria, leading efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict. He also led a UN commission to investigate the Rohingya refugee crisis in Myanmar.
Current UN chief Antonio Guterres led the tributes to his predecessor, describing Annan as "a guiding force for good".
"In many ways, Kofi Annan was the UN. He rose through the ranks to lead the organisation into the new millennium with matchless dignity and determination," he said.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said "the world has lost not only a great African diplomat and humanitarian but also a conscience keeper of international peace and security".
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al Hussein said he was grief-stricken over Annan's death.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo ordered flags be flown at half-mast across the country and in diplomatic missions across the world for seven days, starting on Monday. He called Annan "one of our greatest compatriots".
UK Prime Minister Theresa May said Annan was "a great leader and reformer of the UN, he made a huge contribution to making the world he had left a better place than the one he was born into".
"We will never forget his calm and resolved gaze, nor the strength of his fight," tweeted French President Emmanuel Macron.
NATO leader Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that the world had lost one of its giants.
However, Annan was not immune from criticism. His critics blamed him for the UN's failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s when he was head of the organisation's peacekeeping operations.
Later, after the US-led invasion of Iraq, he and his son were accused of being involved in the "oil for food corruption scandal" that led some to call for his resignation, though he was later exonerated.