Polish chronicler of Third World Kapuscinski dies

WARSAW Tue Jan 23, 2007 11:22pm GMT

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WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish journalist and author Ryszard Kapuscinski, whose chronicles of the world's trouble spots won him an international reputation, died on Tuesday, the PAP news agency said. He was 74.

From 1959 to 1981, Kapuscinski covered the globe's poorest and most dangerous places as a correspondent for PAP. He also wrote books about Africa's emergence from colonialism -- and its descent into turmoil and war.

Best-known among his 19 books was "The Emperor", an account of the downfall of Ethiopia's Haile Selassie told from inside the castle walls.

He witnessed 27 coups and revolutions, befriended the likes of Che Guevara, and was sentenced to death four times, according to his American publisher, Alfred A. Knopf.

Kapuscinski's books were translated into 30 languages. "Shah of Shahs", published in 1982, describes the overthrow of the Shah of Iran. "The Soccer War" is a collection of dispatches from the Third World. "Imperium" chronicles the break-up of the Soviet Union.

Working abroad, Kapuscinski largely avoided run-ins with the censors of Poland's former communist regime, but not always.

For many Poles, "The Emperor" brought to mind their country's own totalitarian leaders. The book was published, but a film version was forbidden.

Kapuscinski said his experiences with totalitarianism and war -- Soviet soldiers overran his hometown when he was a boy -- helped him understand the Third World.

In an interview with Reuters at the end of 2006, Kapuscinski said he wrote not with a Polish or even a European audience in mind, but for "people everywhere still young enough to be curious about the world".

Rumour had it that Kapuscinski was a leading candidate for the Nobel literature prize. But the call from Stockholm never came.

He was born in Pinsk, a small city now in Belarus, in 1932. The city was so poor Kapuscinski said he felt at home in Africa because "food was scarce there too and everyone was also barefoot".

Kapuscinski travelled and wrote into his old age, although he no longer visited what he called the "really wicked places".

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