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Madeleine Albright - the first woman to serve as US secretary of state - has died at the age of 84, her family have confirmed.
Albright's family said she died from cancer earlier today (Wednesday 23 March). A statement said: "We are heartbroken to announce that Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, the 64th U.S. Secretary of State and the first woman to hold that position, passed away earlier today.
"The cause was cancer. She was surrounded by family and friends. We have lost a loving mother, grandmother, sister, aunt, and friend.”
Albright's family also paid tribute to her life and career, saying she was a ‘tireless champion of democracy and human rights’.
Born in Czechoslovakia in 1937, Albright and her family moved to London, England, just before Nazi Germany invaded their home country. They returned to Prague after the war, but fled to the US as refugees upon the Communist takeover, with Albright later becoming a US citizen in 1957.
Over the years, she rose through the ranks of American policy-making, going on to be chosen as the country's top diplomat in 1996 by President Bill Clinton - serving in that capacity for the last four years of the Clinton administration, becoming the highest-ranking woman in the history of US government at the time.
Albright remained outspoken through the years as a political and feminist icon, having famously criticised President George W Bush for using 'the shock of force' rather than alliances to foster diplomacy, saying he had driven away moderate Arab leaders and created potential for a dangerous rift with European allies.
In 2012, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama, who was US President at the time. Praising her remarkable achievements as he presented the accolade, President Obama said: "As the first woman to serve as America’s top diplomat, Madeleine’s courage and toughness helped bring peace to the Balkans and paved the way for progress in some of the most unstable corners of the world.
"And as an immigrant herself - the granddaughter of Holocaust victims who fled her native Czechoslovakia as a child - Madeleine brought a unique perspective to the job. This is one of my favorite stories. Once, at a naturalization ceremony, an Ethiopian man came up to her and said, 'Only in America can a refugee meet the Secretary of State.' And she replied, 'Only in America can a refugee become the Secretary of State.'"
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