Former US Secretary Colin Powell dies of COVID-19 complications

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Colin Powell, the first black US secretary of state and top military officer, died on Monday at the age of 84 from COVID-19 complications, his family said in a statement.

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“He was fully vaccinated. We want to thank the medical staff at Walter Reed National Medical Center for their caring treatment. We have lost a remarkable and loving husband, father, grandfather and a great American,” Powell’s family said in a post on his Facebook page.

As a four-star Army general, he was chairman of the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush during the 1991 Gulf War in which US-led forces expelled Iraqi troops from neighboring Kuwait.

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Powell, a moderate Republican and a pragmatist, later served as secretary of state under President George W. Bush.

“General Powell is an American hero, an American example, and a great American story,” George W. Bush said as he announced the nomination of Powell, the son of Jamaican immigrants who became the Republican president’s secretary of state in 2000.

“In directness of speech, his towering integrity, his deep respect for our democracy, and his soldier’s sense of duty and honor, Colin Powell demonstrates... qualities that will make him a great representative of all the people of this country.”

US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell (L) meet in the Oval Office of the White House, April 18, 2002. (Reuters)
US President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell (L) meet in the Oval Office of the White House, April 18, 2002. (Reuters)

But he found it hard to live down his infamous February 2003 speech to the United Nations Security Council about the alleged existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq -- the evidence he presented was later proven to be false.

“It’s a blot... and will always be a part of my record. It was painful. It’s painful now,” Powell said in a 2005 interview with ABC News.

Tributes nevertheless poured in from Congress, where Democratic Senator Mark Warner praised Powell as “a patriot and a public servant,” while House Republican Peter Meijer described him as a rarity in the modern age: “a true soldier statesman.”

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