ANKARA (Reuters) - Former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel, who was twice toppled by the military during seven stints as the head of government, died early on Wednesday, according to a hospital official and Turkish media. He was 90.
Demirel, who served as prime minister seven times through the 1960s to the 1990s and was president from 1993 to 2000, died at the Guven Hospital in Ankara, where he had been undergoing treatment for a respiratory tract infection, a hospital official told Reuters.
“Mr Demirel, who was conscious until his very last moment, has said goodbye in a peaceful and proud way,” his doctor, Aylin Cesur, told reporters outside the Ankara hospital in comments broadcast by CNN Turk television.
Born to a farming family in the western Turkish province of Isparta in November 1924, Demirel trained as a civil engineer, according to an official government biography.
He first came to power in general elections held five years after a 1960 coup, at the head of the Justice Party. He inherited his mostly rural power base from the former Democrat Party, which had been banned by the military.
“The progress that Turkey’s industry and development and its democracy has made is thanks to Demirel’s patriotism and bravery,” Esat Kiratlioglu, a former minister who worked in a Demirel cabinet, told Turkey’s CNN Turk television.
Demirel had no children but was known as “Baba”, or “Dad”, to his fans in Turkey’s farming heartland during his years in power. He served during a period of unstable coalitions in NATO-member Turkey that was brought to an end when the ruling AK Party, founded by President Tayyip Erdogan, came to power in 2002.
Turkey now faces a return to coalition politics after the AKP failed to secure a majority in June 7 elections, in a big setback for a party that has transformed the country into one of the world’s top 20 economies.
Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu paid tribute to Demirel.
“Suleyman Demirel, who has contributed greatly to the development process of our country and has left deep marks in Turkey’s politics is one of the most important figures of our political history,” Erdogan said in a written statement.
Davutoglu said Demirel’s ‘unique style’ will be remembered.
“He was a politician who will always be remembered by... the services he has given to our country throughout his long political career,” Davutoglu said on Twitter.
Writing by David Dolan and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Larry King and Hugh Lawson