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Former U.S. President Gerald Ford Dead At 93

By Andrew Tully

WASHINGTON, December 27, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Gerald Ford, the 38th president of the United States, has died at the age of 93.

His passing was announced by his wife, Betty, on December 26 in Rancho Mirage, California, where the ex-president had an office. The statement did not say where Ford died or list a cause of death, but Ford had recently suffered a series of health problems, including pneumonia and a heart ailment.

Ford will be remembered in the United States as the president who led the country in the immediate aftermath of the Watergate scandal and the resignation of his predecessor, Richard Nixon. He assumed the presidency on August 9, 1974, as the first U.S. politician to ever succeed a president who resigned from office.

Bringing Country Together

It was divisive time. Nixon had resigned only after bruising Congressional hearings intended to get to the heart of one of the worst political scandals in U.S. political history.

The scandal focused on the activities of a group of Nixon loyalists in the Republican Party who broke into the offices of the Democratic Party in the Watergate building in downtown Washington, D.C.

The office break-in ahead of the 1972 presidential campaign became the centerpiece of charges that the Nixon administration abused its power to undermine opponents. By 1974, when Nixon resigned, the scandal looked likely to end in impeachment proceedings.

Ford later pardoned Nixon in an act designed to end the political fighting just a month after he assumed office.

But if the Watergate scandal brought Ford to office and overshadowed the early months of his presidency, it also helped define the new president's image as it is remembered now.

Americans mostly recall Ford's presidency today as a time of reconciliation. This included not only coming to terms with the Watergate scandal, but also the social turbulence generated by a decade of protest surrounding the U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia.

Helsinki Accords

One of the highlights of Ford's term was the conclusion of the Helsinki Accords. The document committed its signatories  -- including the Soviet Union and East and West Germany -- to strive for peace and guarantee basic human rights.

Ford addressed the conference in Helsinki at the time of the signing. In his speech, he stressed the United States' intent to pursue detente with Moscow.

"The United States also intends to pursue vigorously a further agreement on strategic arms limitations with the Soviet Union. This remains a priority of American policy," Ford said. "General Secretary [Leonid] Brezhnev and I agreed last November in Vladivostok on the essentials of a new accord limiting strategic offensive weapons for the next 10 years. We are moving forward in our bilateral discussions here in Helsinki."

Ford was born in Omaha, Nebraska, on July 14, 1913, and was initially named Leslie King Jr. However, after his parents divorced when he was 2 years old and his mother remarried, he took the name of his stepfather, Gerald R. Ford.

Ford studied economics and political science at the University of Michigan, later got a law degree at Yale University, and was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1948.

He was a star student athlete at Michigan and remained active throughout his life.

Copyright (c) 2006. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org



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