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Bangladesh president dies in Singapore

Zillur Rahman sits behind a portrait of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during an interview with AFP in Dhaka, on March 8, 2001
Zillur Rahman sits behind a portrait of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman during an interview with AFP in Dhaka, on March 8, 2001. Bangladesh President Rahman has died in a Singapore hospital where he was being treated for kidney and respiratory problems, an embassy

Bangladesh President Zillur Rahman, a veteran ruling party politician named to the largely ceremonial post in 2009, died Wednesday in a Singapore hospital, officials said. He was 84.

Rahman, who was suffering from kidney and respiratory problems, was flown to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital by air ambulance on March 10 after his conditions worsened.

The nation declared three days of mourning after his death in the early evening in Singapore and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina expressed her "profound shock" and lamented "an irreparable loss to the country and its people".

Rahman's secretary Shafiul Alam told AFP that the close aide of the nation's founding leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman had been suffering from "old age complications". He leaves behind a son, who is a lawmaker, and two daughters.

The body of the former deputy chief of the ruling Awami League will be flown back to the country on Thursday, he said, with his funeral and burial taking place on Friday afternoon.

In response to his death, Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs expressed its "profound sadness" in a statement Wednesday night.

"The ministry would like to extend its deepest condolences to the bereaved family, the government of Bangladesh and the people of Bangladesh during this time of national mourning," the statement said.

It added that it was working with the High Commission of Bangladesh for Rahman's body to be flown back home.

In this photograph taken on December 29, 2012, the entrance to the Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore
In this photograph taken on December 29, 2012, people walk through the entrance of the Mount Elizabeth hospital in Singapore.

A lawyer by profession and one of the longest serving lawmakers of the country, who first joined parliament in 1973, Rahman earlier made his name as an activist who pushed for Bangladesh to break free from Pakistani rule.

As a student leader and political organiser he played an active role in the Language Movement in 1952 for the establishment of Bengali as a state language, a crucial campaign that helped cement the idea of Bangladeshi statehood.

Authorities in what was then East Pakistan sentenced him to twenty years of imprisonment in absentia during the independence war of 1971 and confiscated all his properties.

After the assassination of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family in 1975, he was also put behind bars for four years by the military government which overthrew the elected government.

A third period of detention followed in 1986.

More latterly, he played a key role in keeping the party united after Hasina was arrested by a military-backed government in 2007.

The Awami League won a landslide victory in the December 2008 general elections and Rahman became a member of parliament for the sixth time and subsequently took the oath as the 19th President on February 12, 2009.

Rahman's wife Ivy Rahman, also a politician, died in August 2004 after she was critically injured in a grenade attack on an Awami League party rally that also killed 20 other people.

The president's death comes amid some of the worst political violence in post-independence Bangladesh, which has seen at least 86 people killed since January 21.

The trigger for the unrest has been a war crimes tribunal that has begun sentencing people over atrocities committed during the 1971 independence war. The political opposition says it is being targeted by the tribunal.