HARRIS WAS NAURU’S LONGEST-SERVING POLITICIAN

News Release

Government of Nauru July 6, 2008

HARRIS WAS NAURU’S LONGEST-SERVING POLITICIAN

Nauru’s former President Rene Harris, the man who helped broker the so-called "pacific Solution" with former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, had died at the age of 61.

Mr Harris suffered a sudden heart attack on Friday afternoon and remained on life support throughout the night and the early hours of Saturday morning.

A state funeral was held for him on Saturday afternoon attended by current President Marcus Stephen, cabinet members and MP’s along with a number of the former presidents and members of parliament.

The eulogy was delivered by the daughter of Nauru’s first President and founding father Hammer DeRoburt, Mrs Jeanette Appi, who described Mr Harris as a man of strong spirit with a reputation as a strong fighter.

Mrs Appi said despite his tough reputation, Mr Harris was a man of great humour and compassion who loved his people and his country.

Rene Harris was Nauru’s longest-serving politician until he lost his seat in the 18-member parliament in the general election in April this year. He had served continuously for 31 years, having been first elected in 1977.

He was President for some four years at various times between 1999 and 2004. He also served terms as Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Nauru Phosphate Commission.

Mr Harris was educated at Geelong College in Victoria, Australia, where he played in the First 18 AFL team and the First 5 tennis team.

During one of his latest terms as President, Mr Harris joined with the Howard government in initiating the "Pacific Solution" in 2001, which saw the processing of asylum seekers on Nauru, rather than in Australia, where they were headed.

Mr Harris’ wife died just over a month ago after a battle with cancer.

He is survived by his four daughters, one son and 10 grandchildren.

Nauru’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Dr Kieren Keke, said that although Mr Harris was always unorthodox and controversial, there is no denying that Nauru has lost one of its most memorable orators and toughest politicians.

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