Radu Vasile (Associated Press)
BUCHAREST, Romania (AP) - Former Prime Minister Radu Vasile, who helped pave the way for Romania's accession to the European Union but was finally brought down by political feuding and protests against economic reforms he struggled to implement, has died. He was 70.
He died early Wednesday after suffering colon cancer, said his son, Tudor Vasile.
Vasile became prime minister in April 1998. Among other achievements he mediated a violent miners' protest at the Cozia Monastery halfway through a march to the capital which they had threatened to rampage.
Vasile invited and then hosted Pope John Paul II in Bucharest in 1999. The visit was the first visit by a pope to a Christian Orthodox country since the great schism in 1054.
Vasile supported NATO's use of Romanian airspace during 1999 raids against Yugoslavia which was unpopular but helped Romania to join the alliance in 2004. Romania also began EU accession talks during Vasile's term.
Stresses of the job took their toll on Vasile, who suffered a heart attack in 1999 and vowed to quit smoking two packets a day.
He was fired by President Emil Constantinescu in December 1999 amid workers' protests and infighting in the government.
President Traian Basescu praised Vasile for leading Romania a turbulent time, joining in tributes by former presidents Ion Iliescu and Constantinescu.
Vasile will be buried Friday at the Bellu Catholic cemetery.
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