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By Alison Bevege

SYDNEY (Reuters) - One of New Zealand's senior political figures, former deputy prime minister James Patrick Anderton, has died in a Christchurch hospital, aged 79.

The idealistic former president of New Zealand's progressive Labour Party became disillusioned with the organisation's direction in 1989 so he broke away to create the NewLabour Party and, later, the Alliance Party to pursue full employment and the retention of public assets.

As Alliance Party leader, he served as deputy prime minister in a coalition government with Labour under prime minister Helen Clark from 1999 to 2002.

Born on 21 January 1938, Anderton died just two weeks before his 80th birthday.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Sunday that Anderton had been a towering figure in the Labour movement for decades. He built a powerful campaigning organisation, selected candidates who became ministers and prime minister and was an innovative fundraiser, she said in an emailed announcement.

"He will be remembered as someone who stood up for his principles and for the people he represented. His integrity during difficult times marked him out as a true leader."

"We mourn his loss, and extend our heartfelt sympathies to Jim’s wife Carole, his family and friends."

Anderton devoted much of his life to public service and used his retirement to campaign for the restoration of Canterbury Cathedral, severely damaged in an earthquake.

(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Meredith Mazzilli)

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Reuters