DOHA, Qatar, Oct. 25 (UPI) -- The former emir of Qatar who oversaw the country gain its independence from Britain during his 23-year rule died of unknown causes Sunday night.
The 84-year-old Sheikh Khalifa bin Hamad al-Thani, who helped modernize the country before being ousted in a bloodless coup in 1995, died Sunday, although government officials in Qatar did not announce where he died or what he died of.
Sheikh Khalifa became the prime minister of Qatar in 1970 after the position was created by the emir at the time, his cousin, Sheikh Ahmad bin Ali al-Thani, announcing the country's independence from Britain in 1971.
Sheikh Khalifa took over the country in a bloodless coup in 1972, consolidating oil production and working with foreign companies to take control of revenue that, as oil exports grew, allowed the country to become one of the world's wealthiest nations.
During his 23-year rule, Sheikh Khalifa created the nation's ministries of defense, foreign affairs, municipality and information, and developed services in the country to serve citizens -- effectively restructuring the nation into a modern state.
"Sheikh Khalifa boldly brought Qatar onto the stage of world affairs, even defying his new ally the United States -- largely seen as Britain's successor in guaranteeing the security of the gulf -- by reaching out to the Soviets," Allen J. Fromherz, an associate professor at Georgia State University, told The New York Times. "It may have been this act, in fact, that prevented the U.S. from intervening when Sheikh Hamad, a hero of the Iraq war against Saddam, took power in 1995."
The country will observe three days of mourning for Sheikh Khalifa, officials said in a press release.