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Popular Amsterdam mayor dies after lung cancer battle

© ANP/AFP/File | Dutch King Willem-Alexander (R) with mayor Eberhard van der Laan in Amsterdam. Van der Laan revealed earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer

THE HAGUE (AFP) - 

Amsterdam's popular mayor Eberhard van der Laan, widely seen as the embodiment of the Dutch capital's reputation for tolerance, has died of lung cancer aged 62, the city announced on Friday.

"Mayor Van der Laan died last night of lung cancer. We mourn the loss of a beloved mayor and send condolences to his family and friends," a statement said.

Van der Laan, who became mayor in 2010, revealed in January he had been diagnosed with lung cancer.

"Although time will tell... there is little reason for optimism," he said in a public letter.

Despite his illness, he continued working until mid-September.

A few days after his retirement, thousands of Amsterdammers gathered in front of his official residence where he received a thundering applause lasting for more than five minutes.

Gruff in appearance and not standing on protocol -- he was often seen in public with a cigarette in one hand until he quit smoking -- Van der Laan was known as a fearless and at times even biting manager, who was not afraid to speak his mind.

In one of his best-remembered moments in 2013 he snubbed President Vladimir Putin on a visit to the city, saying he was "too busy" to meet the Russian leader.

The mayor then had a rainbow flag flown from the city hall to protest Russia's policies against homosexuals.

His health took a turn for the worse in the last few months.

In one of his last public photos last month, a fragile-looking Van der Laan is supported at the arm by Dutch King Willem-Alexander after a visit to an inner city suburb to talk to residents.

Condolences streamed in Friday and #Eberhard was the top trending topic on Twitter, while flags across the country flew half mast.

A lawyer by profession, Van der Laan started a campaign to tackle 600 of the city's most violent offenders and introduced a law against illegal squatters shortly after his appointment.

Van der Laan "was a driven mayor who put his heart into the city and had a fervent belief that everyone counted in society," the Dutch King and Queen Maxima said on their Facebook page.

jhe/ach

© 2017 AFP