Former Papua New Guinea prime minister Sir William Skate, 52, has died in a Brisbane hospital after a short illness.
Sir William suffered a stroke in Port Moresby last week and was airlifted to Brisbane's Wesley Hospital on Saturday.
He has had heart problems since 2000. His death was announced on public radio by an aide. Sir William, who was prime minister from 1997 to 1999, grew up in a poor Port Moresby settlement.
He graduated from university as an accountant before beginning his parliamentary career in 1992. His term as prime minister was cut short when he was ousted by former prime minister Mekere Morauta while the country was facing an economic crisis.
His political low point came after a former aide filmed him drinking whisky and boasting about his ability to play a 'godfather' role in the country.
As prime minister, Sir William was instrumental in smoothing the way for the restoration of peace in the island province of Bougainville after years of secessionist bloodshed.
Current Prime Minister Michael Somare has praised Sir William's "trademark straight-shooting frankness during parliamentary debates".
"His compassion for and ability to understand the grassroots needs are second to none. PNG is the poorer without this guiding voice and compassion," he said.
Bougainville President Joeseph Kabui was a close friend of Sir William and worked closely with him. He says he is shocked to hear of his death. Mr Kabui says the former prime minister had a heart for the ordinary people but was often misunderstood.
"I hold Sir William in the highest esteem because I see whatever action he does, he does for the common good," he said. While Governor of Port Moresby in the 1990s, Sir William created work for thousands of young men by paying them to construct footpaths and garden beds.
Sir William's aide, Susuve Laumea, says the former leader will be remembered fondly by the people of Bougainville. "One of his biggest legacies was the brokering of the Bougainville peace accord - he laid the foundations for that for eventual peace on Bougainville.
"He's very well respected by the Bougainvilleans for what he had done for eventual peace to come to Bougainville."
SIR William Skate, who rose from the streets of Kaugere settlement in Port Moresby to become Prime Minister, has died.
Sir William died in the Wesley Hospital in Brisbane, Australia at 8.55 yesterday morning, after the life support system he was on for nearly three days was removed.
His wife Lady Rarua Skate, son William Skate Junior and other relatives were with him when he was taken off the life support system. It appeared the family had reached this decision and conveyed it to the doctors after the former prime minister’s condition had become critical.
Sir William was rushed to the Port Moresby General Hospital last Tuesday due to high blood pressure and suspected stroke, and was flown by medivac to Brisbane over the weekend after his condition worsened.
An aide said Sir William was conscious and was able to communicate with relatives until lunch hour on Saturday when he “relapsed into a coma situation” and was placed on life support.
On Monday, doctors at the hospital held a meeting with the family after determining that the critical condition of Sir William “had not significantly changed”.
The news of his death was received with shock and sadness, with the family appealing for calm among his supporters in his electorate in the capital city.
The National could not obtain from the family or the doctors the cause of Sir William’s death.
Close aide to Sir William, Susuve Laumaea, made the appeal on behalf the family on FM 100 talkback programme yesterday for calm, appealing to supporters not to do anything illegal.
“The family is appealing for goodwill and prayers and not to do anything that the family would not do,” Mr Laumaea said. Mr Laumaea said Lady Rarua had shown great courage and strength.
“She has gone through difficult times with Skate in his political career. She is there at his bedside with other close relatives living in Australia. The Prime Minister has been kept informed of Sir William’s situation,” he said.
Details of the repatriation of his body back to Port Moresby will be made known when arrangements are finalised, Mr Laumaea said.
Sir William is the first, and probably the youngest, of the six living prime ministers of the country to pass away. Sir William, 52, is survived by Lady Rarua, 12 children and two grandchildren.