Bahrain’s Prince Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, the world’s longest-serving prime minister who had held the post since independence in 1971, died Wednesday at the age of 84, state media announced, Agency France Presse said.
Prince Khalifa passed away at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in the United States, the official Bahrain News Agency said.
The country will hold a week of official mourning, during which flags will be flown at half-mast. Government ministries and departments will be closed for three days, the AFP report said.
Born on November 24, 1935, Khalifa began to attend his father’s royal court at the age of seven along with his elder brother, Prince Issa.
He was named in 1970 as the head of the state council, the executive branch of government which became the council of ministers after independence from Britain.
Prince Khalifa was a controversial figure during his long time in office — and deeply unpopular with the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s Shiite population.
When Shiite-led protesters occupied Manama’s Pearl Square for a month in 2011, before being driven out by Saudi-backed security forces, their main demand was for Khalifa to step down.
He played a key role in Bahrain’s political and economic affairs for more than three decades after setting the stage for a referendum that put paid to the Shah of Iran’s claims to the tiny Gulf archipelago.
But the prime minister, who was accused by dissidents of opposing political reforms and cracking down on activists, took a lower profile after his nephew King Hamad ascended the throne in March 1999, the report said.
In 1972, elections were held for a constituent assembly which drafted Bahrain’s first constitution the following year, it said.
The first parliamentary elections were held in December 1973, but Sheikh Khalifa’s government dissolved the chamber in August 1975 after it refused to pass a state security law giving the government wide powers of arrest and detention without trial, the AFP report added.