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Eberhard van der Laan dies; popular Amsterdam mayor was 62

Dutch King Willem-Alexander, left, visits with Amsterdam Mayor

Dutch King Willem-Alexander, left, visits with Amsterdam Mayor Eberhard van der Laan on Sept. 8, 2017. Van der Laan stepped down from his post last month due to complications with his health. Credit: AFP/Getty Images / Phil Nijhuis

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Eberhard van der Laan, the popular mayor of Amsterdam who ran the city with a firm hand and a compassionate touch, has died after a long battle with lung cancer. He was 62.

Amsterdam Municipality, which Van der Laan led for seven years before stepping down last month because of his failing health, said Van der Laan died Thursday night.

“Amsterdam weeps for its dear mayor and all of the Netherlands mourns” with the city, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

Well-wishers placed flowers and balloons outside Van der Laan’s official residence throughout the day, and several commemorations were hastily arranged at venues in the city on Friday evening.

A lawyer and member of the center-left Labor Party, Van der Laan was a government minister for housing and integration for two years before being appointed mayor in July 2010. He made headlines in April 2013 when he said he was too busy to meet with Vladimir Putin during the Russian president’s visit to Amsterdam.

The move was widely seen as a snub to Putin because of Russian legislation banning gay “propaganda.” Rainbow flags flew at half-staff around the city during Putin’s visit.

Soon after taking office, Van der Laan won respect for personally reaching out to parents of children abused by a pedophile in an Amsterdam day care center. He displayed his tough side by cracking down on youth crime and anti-social behavior.

In a Facebook post, Dutch King Willem-Alexander paid tribute to Van der Laan, calling him “a driven mayor with a heart for his city and a fiery belief in a society to which everybody belongs.”

In September, Van der Laan wrote an open letter to all Amsterdam residents announcing he was stepping aside. He closed the letter with a line that underscored his affection for the city and its residents: “Take good care of our city and of each other. Farewell.”

Following the announcement, hundreds gathered outside his official residence, a historic canal-side mansion, and applauded the mayor.

Van der Laan is survived by his wife, Femke, and five children.

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