Bangladesh President Mohammad Zillur Rahman has died. He was regarded as a key figure in consolidating the ruling Awami League's unity and one of the veteran organizers of the Liberation War of 1971.
As a stalwart of the Awami League, which currently rules Bangladesh, and a close friend of the country's first president, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the death of President Zillur Rahman has been viewed as an irrevocable loss to the country and its people.
A tall leader in death
President Zillur Rahman, 84, died Wednesday at a Singapore hospital after he was flown in earlier this month where he was being treated for kidney and respiratory problems. The government has announced three days of mourning for Rahman, who will be given a state funeral.
Parliamentary speaker Abdul Hamid will be acting president until the legislature elects a new head of state.
Leaders from around the world expressed their condolences. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said, "Late President M Zillur Rahman made important contributions to the country's democratic transition throughout his political life."
US Secretary of State John Kerry said, "We were saddened to learn of the passing of the President of Bangladesh Zillur Rahman. His efforts helped to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, and his subsequent decades of public service helped Bangladesh establish itself as the democracy it is today."
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, daughter of Bangladesh's founding father Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, said the demise of Bangladesh's oldest politician was an "irreparable loss to the country and its people."
"People will ever remember his contributions to every stage of the nation since its emergence in 1971. We have lost an honest, dedicated and popular politician," the prime minister said.
Opposition leader Begum Khaleda Zia, head of the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), said Rahman's positive role in different political crises in the country would remain "an important part of our national history."
A political visionary
As the 19th President of Bangladesh, Rahman had a long and illustrious political career that began in 1953 when he was elected as the vice-president of the student union of Fazlul Huq Hall of Dhaka University virtually uncontested.
"He knew the hurly-burly of politics and had an astute political mind. After our victory in the war of liberation, he actively took part in the formation of the constitution and was also elected member of parliament from his constituency," Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus told DW.
Rahman was sentenced to 20 years in jail during Bangladesh's 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan and was again imprisoned for four years after Sheikh Mujib's assassination in 1975.
He was again briefly jailed after elections in 1986 when he was an Awami League MP.
"He was courageous and far-sighted. Even after the arrest of Sheikh Hasina following the promulgation of the state of emergency in 2007, President Rahman played a vital role as the acting president of the party to revive democracy. He never lost hope," Minister for Liberation War Affairs A. B. Tajul Islam told DW.
Many felt that as Bangladesh neared the 42nd anniversary of its independence, Rahman's death offered a moment for all citizens to come together in mourning and reflect on what unites them as a nation.