NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) — Turkish Cypriots declared a weeklong period of mourning for former longtime leader Rauf Denktash and founder of their breakaway state who died at age 87, an official said Saturday.
Schools and public buildings will be shut for Tuesday's funeral in the Turkish Cypriot north of the divided island's capital Nicosia, while all official events will be canceled and flags will fly at half-staff, Turkish Cypriot official Osman Ertug said.
Turkish Cypriots were left numb at news of Denktash's death Friday, despite the fact his health has been deteriorating since last May when he had a stroke. Turkey announced that flags will also be lowered to half-staff and at all its embassies abroad until Denktash's funeral.
Meanwhile, officials paid tribute to Denktash, whose utter devotion to a separate Turkish Cypriot state defined a 60-year political career and earned the enmity of the majority Greek Cypriots.
The island was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a coup by supporters of a union with Greece. Denktash was the driving force behind a Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence in 1983, presiding over the breakaway state — that only Turkey recognizes — from 1983 until bowing out of active politics in 2005.
So devoted was Denktash to the separatist cause that leading Turkish Cypriot newspaper Kibris quoted his daughter as saying his final words included a diktat to Greek Cypriot leaders — spoken in Greek — that the north is an independent republic.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said Denktash's death was "a loss not only for the Turkish Cypriots but for all Turks."
Gul urged Turkish Cypriots to safeguard their state, which he said was Denktash's greatest legacy while striving for "success in the half-century-long struggle for a fair and lasting peace" in Cyprus.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was "saddened" to hear of Denktash's death. Ban called Denktash a "historic Turkish Cypriot leader with whom the United Nations had a long relationship" as part of numerous failed rounds of U.N.-facilitated reunification talks.
Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias said he called the current Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu to convey his condolences and would also contact Denktash's son, Serdar.
"Denktash was steadfast to his vision for partition," Christofias said. "We can't agree naturally with Rauf Denktash's vision, that's reality, but it would be wrong at this time to make generalizations and accuse Denktash."
Gul, Turkey's parliamentary speaker Cemil Cicek, Deputy Prime Minister Besir Atalay and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu were expected to attend the funeral, according to Turkey's NTV television.
It was not known if Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who underwent surgery about six weeks ago, would also attend.