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LONDON (Reuters) - One of Britain's highest-profile union leaders, Bob Crow, died suddenly on Tuesday, just weeks after leading the latest train drivers' strike to cause havoc on London's underground railway.
The Rail Maritime and Transport workers' union (RMT) said
Crow, 52, died in the early hours of Tuesday morning. A spokesman declined to comment on media reports that he had suffered a heart attack and had died in hospital.
Crow had led a series of rail strikes since becoming leader of the RMT in 2002, the most recent of which, last month, caused traffic chaos in the capital.
But whilst many commuters may have loathed him, the members of the RMT for whose rights he fought for more than a decade, loved him.
"It is with the deepest regret that RMT has to confirm that our general secretary Bob Crow sadly passed away in the early hours of this morning," the union said in a statement.
No further details were immediately available.
An imposing, stocky man with a penchant for wearing duffel coats and flat caps, Crow was a larger-than-life character and one of the "awkward squad" of left-wing British union leaders who have come to power since the turn of the century.
Despite earning an annual salary of 145,000 pounds, he continued to live in a council house in London.
He was attacked in the British media last month when he was photographed sunning himself on a beach in Brazil just days before the start of the latest tube strike.
"What do you want me to do," he replied with typical chutzpah. "Sit under a tree and read Karl Marx every day?"
His long-time ideological foe, London Mayor Boris Johnson, was among the first to praise Crow's tireless fight for his members.
"I'm shocked. Bob Crow was a fighter and a man of character. Whatever our political differences - and there were many - this is tragic news," Johnson said in statement.
"He shared my goal to make transport in London an even greater success. It's a sad day."
Frances O'Grady, leader of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) umbrella group, said she was shocked.
"Bob was an outstanding trade unionist, who tirelessly fought for his members, his industry and the wider trade union movement," she said in a statement.
Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith; editing by Stephen Addison