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'World's best mayor' loses battle with cancer

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'World's best mayor' loses battle with cancer
Bilbao mayor Iñaki Azkuna (inset) used the Guggenheim museum to position the city as a global culture hub. File photo: Roslan Rahman/AFP/Jes/Flickr
10:12 CET+01:00
Iñaki Azkuna, the long-serving mayor of the Spanish city of Bilbao, has died at the age of 71 after an 11-year battle with prostate cancer. His efforts in rejuvenating the city helped win him the World Mayor Prize in 2012.

"Thanks for helping me and supporting me. You've been great."

This was the message Bilbao mayor Iñaki Azkuna left for his followers just before his death at home on Thursday evening from complications arising from prostate cancer.

His health had deteriorated notably in the last year but this didn't stop him working for "his great love" — the city of Bilbao — local daily Diario Vasco reported.

The mayor with the Basque Nationalist Party will leave a huge legacy in the city.

Taking office in 1999 shortly after the opening of the city's landmark Guggenheim museum, Azkuna helped oversee the transformation of a declining industrial city into a world international cultural and tourism hub.

In 2012, that work, and his efforts in clearing the city's debt saw Azkuna winning the prestigious World Mayor Prize.

His death is "a great loss", he was a "tremendous person", said Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy on hearing the news.

"Azkuna was a great mayor, and a great manager, a sensible person who did a lot of excellent work for Bilbao," Rajoy added. 

Azkuna's funeral will be held at Bilbao Cathedral on Monday March 24th.

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