Popular Amsterdam mayor dies after lung cancer battle

Jan HENNOP
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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

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

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 Friday.

Condolences poured in throughout the day with European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker calling Van der Laan an "incredible friend of Europe" after learning of his death.

"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," the city of Amsterdam said in a statement.

Van der Laan, who became mayor in 2010, revealed in January that 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, he snubbed President Vladimir Putin on a visit to the city in 2013, 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.

- 'Amsterdam is weeping' -

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.

The #EberhardvanderLaan hashtag was the top trending topic on Twitter in the Netherlands, while flags across the country flew at half-mast on Friday.

A public farewell event will be held next Friday at a venue still to be disclosed, the ANP national news agency said.

Van der Laan is to be buried in a private ceremony next Saturday.

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.

He was "a driven mayor who put his heart into the city and had a fervent belief that everyone counted in society," the King Willem-Alexander and Queen Maxima said on their Facebook page.

"I am deeply saddened by the death of Eberhard van der Laan... my good friend," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

"He was an incredible friend of Europe and a hugely popular mayor of his beloved Amsterdam," he said in a statement.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a statement that "the news hit many people hard. Me too."

"Amsterdam is weeping for its mayor and so does the rest of the Netherlands," he said.

Van der Laan leaves behind his wife Femke and five children.