Iñaki Azkuna, the mayor of Bilbao since 1999, died yesterday (Thursday) at his home after a long battle with cancer, according to the municipal government said.
In a brief statement the city hall reported that Azkuna , one of the driving forces behind the transformation of Bilbao, died yesterday surrounded by his family.
The 71-year-old was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2003.
Azkuna, a Salamanca medical school graduate, had a fall on February 23 and was admitted to hospital. Just 10 days earlier he had been present at a public event.
When it was confirmed that Azkuna would not attend the inauguration of the economic forum at the Guggenheim Museum, an iconic venue in Bilbao’s transformation, Spain’s King Juan Carlos visited him at his home on March 2.
In 1973, Azkuna began teaching medicine at Bilbao’s University of the Basque Country and began working at the Cruces Hospital in Barakaldo. In 1981, he was named Director General of the largest hospital in the Basque region.
Azkuna became the health advisor to the regional Basque government in February 1991, a post he served in until April 1999, when he was elected mayor of Bilbao.
In 2003, just two days after winning his re-election, Azkuna revealed that he was suffering from prostate cancer. However, his illness did not prevent him from carrying out his mayoral duties or from being re-elected twice more, in 2007 and 2011.
Azkuna was popular and received many outstanding awards, both honouring him individually and in the name of the city. He was awarded the title “World’s Best Mayor 2012”.