Suleyman Demirel, a former Turkish president and seven-time prime minister credited with major projects that helped to transform the economy, died on Wednesday. He was 90.
Demirel died at Ankara’s Guven hospital of heart failure and a respiratory tract infection, the hospital said.
“He was a politician who will always be remembered with his unique style and the services he made for our country,” Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a message on Twitter.
Demirel served as prime minister between 1965 and 1980, with two of his terms brought to end by military coups. He promoted major construction projects including dams as he transformed the country’s largely agrarian society into a more urban one. Television newscasts in Turkey described him on Wednesday as the “king of dams.”
“We’ve lost our great leader, who left an unforgettable mark on the roads we walk, the schools we went to, hospitals, water dams and everywhere,” his doctor, Aylin Cesur, told reporters. Demirel had been suffering from diabetes and chronic kidney failure, he said.
Demirel was born to a farming family in the small village of Islamkoy. He sported a trademark felt hat in praise of reforms by the country’s founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who introduced the headwear in 1925 as a symbol of the country’s modernization drive.
Demirel’s political career was dotted by periods of military rule, civil unrest, economic hardships and fierce clashes with autonomy-seeking Kurdish rebels.
He survived an assassination attempt in 1996 by a man allegedly angry about his signing of a military cooperation agreement with Israel. In 1999, he warned politicians not to delve into disputes with the army for fear that could trigger a coup.
Turkey’s military has staged three coups since 1960.
Islamists accused him of bowing to pressure from the army. In 2012, an Islamic human rights organization accused him of helping to force the resignation of the country’s first Islamic-rooted prime minister, Necmettin Erbakan, who stepped down under pressure from the secular military in 1997.
Demirel was tainted by allegations of corruption involving relatives who were charged with graft. In 2005, he said the government’s seizure of family assets in connection with losses at a family-run bank amounted to “robbery.”
Demirel retired in 2000 after serving for seven years as president.
“If you ask me to explain how Turkey is doing in one word, I would say: good,” he once said. “If you ask me to explain it in two words, I would say: not good.”