Hungary ex-PM Horn, key figure in fall of Iron Curtain, dies

Former Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, credited as one of the communist leaders who helped bring down the Iron Curtain in 1989, has died aged 80 in Budapest, the government said Wednesday.

Horn had been hospitalised after suffering a long illness, the government told the Hungarian news agency MTI, without providing further details.

Horn was prime minister from 1994 to 1998 but earned his place in the history books for opening Hungary's border with Austria on September 11, 1989, allowing thousands of East Germans to travel to West Germany.

This first breach of the Iron Curtain led to its eventual fall just a few months later.

In June 1989 already, Horn, then foreign minister, had made the symbolic gesture with his Austrian counterpart Alois Mock of cutting the barbed wire separating their two countries with large pliers -- a historic moment captured by the world's cameras.

Praised abroad for his role in the reunification of Europe, Horn was however less popular at home.

Elected as prime minister of the Socialist-led government in 1994, he presided over the introduction of a harsh austerity package.

His last public appearance had been in 2007, when he celebrated his 75th birthday in Budapest alongside former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.