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Former U.S. Senator Jesse Helms dies at 86

5/07/2008 - 2:23
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By Tom Ferraro

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jesse Helms, a die-hardanti-communist firebrand who championed a wide range ofconservative causes in his 30 years in the U.S. Senate, diedearly on Friday, aged 86, his foundation said.

A blunt-talking product of the Old South, the lawmaker fromNorth Carolina was known as "Senator No" for opposing justabout anything that obstructed his conservative view of theworld. He retired in 2003 after five terms in the Senate.

Helms died at 1:15 a.m. in Raleigh, North Carolina,according to a notice on the Web site of the Jesse HelmsCentre, a foundation established to promote his legacy.

"Laura and I are deeply saddened by the passing of our goodfriend and a great American," President George W. Bush said ina statement. "Jesse Helms was a kind, decent, and humble manand a passionate defender of what he called 'the Miracle ofAmerica.'"

The one-time radio commentator turned congressional powerbroker pursued an ideological agenda that was anti-communist,anti-liberal, anti-gay and anti-affirmative action. He alsoheld a deep distrust of international organizations and manyforeign governments.

"He was one of the giants of the '80s and '90s in theUnited States Senate," former Republican Sen. Trent Lott ofMississippi told Fox News.

For years, Helms played a key role in U.S. foreign policyas chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee,embracing a strong U.S. national defence and what he regardedas a moral foreign policy.

This made the Republican curmudgeon a hero to fellowAmerican conservatives, yet a villain at home and abroad tothose who saw him as a symbol of U.S. isolationism and a foe ofsocial progress. His name became synonymous with socialconservatism.

FOREIGN POLICY HAWK

The Heritage Foundation, a conservative research group,said the defeat of Soviet communism and the rise of the latePresident Ronald Reagan would not have happened without Helms'"intrepid leadership at decisive times."

Helms served as chairman of the Foreign Relations Committeewhile Republicans controlled the Senate from 1995 to 2001. Butno matter which party had control, Helms was a force inCongress, even when failing health forced him to travel thehalls on a motorized scooter.

"Under his leadership, the Senate Foreign RelationsCommittee was a powerful force for freedom," Bush said. "Andtoday, from Central America to Central Europe and beyond,people remember: in the dark days when the forces of tyrannyseemed on the rise, Jesse Helms took their side."

In his 2005 memoir "Here's Where I Stand," Helms explainedhe had embraced the "Doctor No" nickname.

"It wasn't meant as a compliment, but I certainly took itas one. There was plenty to stand up and say 'No!' to during myfirst term in the U.S. Senate," he wrote.

Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain said ina statement: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family andfriends of Senator Jesse Helms. At this time, let us remember alife dedicated to serving this nation."

Helms' battles with the United Nations led to a 1999 dealto repay U.S. debts to the world body in return for U.N.reforms and he co-sponsored legislation that invoked economicsanctions to punish foreign businesses that invested in Cuba.

In March 2002, Helms made headlines and won praise fromsome former critics when he expressed regret for being alatecomer to the global fight against AIDS and vowed to pressfor more money to combat the disease in his final tour ofCapitol Hill.

(Reporting by Jim Wolf and Tom Ferraro; editing by EricBeech and Todd Eastham)

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