Former Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, who oversaw the country's transition through independence from Britain to a republic, has died aged 96. Mintoff was perhaps best known for his confrontational style.
Mintoff, a dominant political force for more than half a century, died at home near to the capital, Valletta, on Monday, the government said.
The current leader of the country's Labour party Joseph Muscat said the Maltese people as a whole had been "orphaned by Mintoff's death."
"Malta has lost the architect of its freedom, a giant of its political history," Muscat was reported as saying in the Times of Malta.
Muscat paid tribute to Mintoff for a series of social reforms including pensions, the minimum wage, free schooling, healthcare and a children's allowance. Enforcing the separation of church and state was another key achievement, Muscat said.
Known for his firebrand speeches, Mintoff oversaw the transition of the country from independence in 1964 to becoming a republic in 1974 and the closure of Britain's military base on the island in 1979. That closure ended a 200-year-old military link.
As the son of a British Royal Navy cook, Mintoff also married a Briton. However, in his political life he often drew the ire of the West, forming links with Communist China and former Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and espousing a policy of Cold War non-alignment.
Mintoff retained a place in parliament until 1998, when he was credited with bringing down the Labour government after a dispute with then-leader Alfred Sant. He went on to unsuccessfully oppose Malta's accession to the European Union in 2004.
rc / lw (AP, dpa, Reuters)