Kurt Waldheim, ex-U.N. chief with dark past, dies

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Kurt Waldheim, whose legacy as U.N. secretary-general was overshadowed by revelations that he belonged to a German army unit that committed atrocities in the Balkans in World War II, died Thursday. He was 88.

Waldheim, who served as U.N. chief from 1972-81, was first confronted with purported evidence of his personal implication in wartime atrocities when he ran for the Austrian presidency in 1986. He consistently denied wrongdoing, defending himself against disclosures made by his main accuser, the World Jewish Congress, and by foreign media.

But his initial denial of serving in the German army unit -- and then assertions that he and fellow Austrians were only doing their duty -- led to international censure and a decision by Washington to place him on a "watch list" of persons prohibited from visiting the United States. That ban was never lifted.

Waldheim's ascendancy to the presidency led to a bruising controversy at home, and it damaged Austria's reputation abroad. During Waldheim's tenure from 1986-92, Austria was largely shunned by foreign leaders, and he never honored his pledge to be a strong president.

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