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The last leader of South Africa’s apartheid government, Friedrich Willem de Klerk, who oversaw the transition from white minority rule in his country, died Thursday at the age of 85.

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Former South African President dies after battle with lung cancer, FW de Klerk Foundation announced in a statement.

A controversial figure in South African history, de Klerk strongly defended racist apartheid policies before taking office as president in 1989.

However, after taking office, the African leader supported the removal of apartheid policies—including a ban on opposition political parties and the release of political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela.

De Klerk would eventually go on to win the Nobel Peace Prize with Nelson Mandela.

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