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article imageTurkey ex-leader who survived two coups dies aged 90

By Stuart Williams (AFP)     Jun 17, 2015 in World

Turkey's former president and prime minister Suleyman Demirel, a political giant for over half a century who survived two military coups and a ban on holding office, died Wednesday. He was 90.

His heyday was during one of the most chaotic periods of modern Turkish history when governments changed sometimes annually under the shadow of the powerful military, and the country was beset by daily street violence and an economic slump.

He died of heart failure resulting from a severe respiratory tract infection, the state Anatolia news agency said, quoting the private Ankara hospital where he was treated.

Demirel served as prime minister on repeated occasions in the 1960s and 1970s and then again one final time in the 1990s before serving as head of state from 1993 to 2000.

In all, he was prime minister of seven different governments, serving five separate stints in the post.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement that Demirel had left "deep marks on Turkish political history" with his contribution to the country's development.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu declared three days of national mourning for Demirel, with a state funeral ceremony to take place in Ankara on Friday and the burial of his body in his home Isparta region on Saturday.

- Survivor of two coups -

Former Turkish President  Suleyman Demirel  pictured in Ankara  in 2003
Former Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel, pictured in Ankara, in 2003
Tarik Tinazay, AFP/File

Trained as an engineer, Demirel first went into politics in the early 1960s in the wake of the 1960 military coup that resulted in the execution of then premier Adnan Menderes.

Leading the centre-right Justice Party (AP), he was first elected prime minister in 1965, becoming at 40 Turkey's youngest ever government chief.

He held together a government for some six years, a huge achievement by the standards of the time.

But Demirel resigned in the 1971 coup, which became known as the "coup by memorandum" when the army presented him with a written ultimatum rather than sending tanks onto the streets.

The coup in 1980, the third in the history of the Turkish republic, saw Demirel hit with a ban from all political activity for 10 years and sent into temporary internal exile at a military camp.

But the ban was overturned through reforms agreed in the constitutional referendum of 1987 which Demirel had himself pressed for.

Leading the True Path Party (DYP) which he founded to replace the AP, Demirel's forces won 1991 elections and he returned to head the government for a final stint.

- 'Yesterday was yesterday' -

Then Turkish President  Suleyman Demirel  pictured during an official ceremony in Syrianokhori  in 1...
Then Turkish President, Suleyman Demirel, pictured during an official ceremony in Syrianokhori, in 1998
Jihan Ammar, AFP/File

He became the ninth Turkish president in May 1993 following the sudden death of Turgut Ozal, serving his full term until 2000.

When his single term as president was to expire -- the maximum allowed under the constitution -- Demirel tried unsuccessfully to get a second term.

Demirel's death comes just one month after the general who masterminded the 1980 coup, former president Kenan Evren, died in disgrace after being sentenced to life in prison in June 2014.

Nicknamed "Coban Sulu" (Suleyman the Shepherd), Demirel was known for his earthy turns of phrase and folksy wisdom that showed up his provincial roots in the southern Isparta region.

Critics accused him of being a political chameleon, happy to make common cause with the far right on occasion but also with the Islamists led by Necmettin Erbakan, the father of political Islam in Turkey.

He turned against the Islamists and it was under his presidency that the army ousted Erbakan, Turkey's first Islamic-rooted premier, in 1997 in the so-called "post-modern coup".

"Yesterday was yesterday, today is today," Demirel once said to describe his political flip-flopping, adding an immortal line to the Turkish political vernacular.

He was also frequently pictured wearing a fedora hat, which became a symbol of his pragmatic image.

In his later years, he was affectionately known as "Baba" (father).

Even before Demirel's death, the airport in Isparta was named in his honour, as well as the university in the region.

In total, Demirel ruled the modern Turkish state longer than anyone else as president and prime minister, with the exception of Ismet Inonu, the second president and right hand man of its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

Only Inonu and Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who became president in 2014, have served longer as prime minister.

Demirel was married to his wife Nazmiye for 65 years until her death in 2013. They had no children.

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