Former Cypriot president dies aged 72

Nicosia (AFP) –


Former Cyprus president Demetris Christofias died Friday at the age of 72 after being admitted to hospital a month ago with a serious respiratory problem, his doctor said.

Christofias' personal doctor Michael Minas told the state-funded Cyprus New Agency that the former president died in the afternoon at Nicosia General Hospital.

Christofias suffered "serious problems with his respiratory system" which had worsened and become irreversible in the last week, the doctor said.

There was a flood of condolences from across the political spectrum for one of Cyprus' best-known politicians.

Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades said in a statement: "It is with great sadness that I was informed of the death of Demetris Christofias.

"As a politician for many years we travelled on parallel paths, but always for the good of the country. To his family, I send my warmest condolences."

A seasoned politician, Christofias became the sixth president of Cyprus from 2008 to 2013, becoming the European Union's and Cyprus' first communist head of state.

As a Russian speaker and Russia-educated leader, he headed the communist party AKEL from 1988 until 2008. He also served as House speaker from 2001-2008.

His tenure as the first communist president was not a happy one as his popularity ratings plummeted, and he was largely blamed for the crippling banking crisis in 2012 that led to the island needing an international bailout in March 2013.

The island?s biggest peacetime disaster also happened on his watch when 13 people -- seven sailors and six firemen -- died in a huge munitions blast at a naval base in Mari on the island's south coast on 11 July 2011.

Junior coalition partners left the government following a public outcry for him to resign and a subsequent public inquiry said he should shoulder political responsibility for what happened.

He slipped quietly out of the public eye after his 2013 election defeat to conservative Anastasiades with his popularity at rock-bottom, but he had long suffered from various health issues.

He is survived by his wife Elsie and three children.