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Last Updated: Friday, 21 March 2008, 13:43 GMT
Author Claus dies by euthanasia
Hugo Claus
Hugo Claus had gained public sympathy in Belgium over his illness
Belgian writer, poet and artist Hugo Claus has died aged 78, ending his life by euthanasia, his wife has said.

He had been suffering from Alzheimer's disease and had "picked the moment of his death", Veerle De Wit added.

He died at Middelheim Hospital in Antwerp but no further details were given. Euthanasia is legal in Belgium.

Among his 200 works was The Sorrow of Belgium, a book about social injustice. He was once married to Sylvia Kristel, star of the Emmanuelle erotic films.

The former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was among those paying tributes to Claus, and said he imagined the onset of Alzheimer's must have been "inevitable and unbearable torture".

"Almost no longer able to knead his words into clear phrases, create the right expressions and metaphors.

He left us as a great glowing star, right on time, just before he would have collapsed into a black hole
Guy Verhofstadt
Ex-Belgian prime minister

"It was something which cost him no effort for over 60 years," Mr Verhofstadt said.

"In each and every text and poem, he was an emotional beacon in our dark world.

"But I can live with the fact that he decided thus, because he left us as a great glowing star, right on time, just before he would have collapsed into a black hole."

Claus was born in Bruges in 1929 and was a rebellious pupil at Catholic boarding schools.

His first work was Short Series, a collection of poems published at the age of 18, while plays such as Friday and Sugar also helped him to gain fame.

Claus's death coincided with festivities to mark the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Sorrow of Belgium, a partly autobiographical novel.

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