Glafcos Clerides (Associated Press/Richard Drew)
NICOSIA, Cyprus (AP) - Former Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides, who dedicated most of his 50 years in politics to trying to reunify the ethnically split island and guided it to European Union membership, has died. He was 94.
Joseph Kasios, Clerides' personal physician for over a quarter century, said he died at a private clinic early Friday evening.
The fourth president of Cyprus, Clerides was widely respected for deftly navigating the Mediterranean island's often treacherous politics over half a century, though he was never able to reunify the island.
After losing in two presidential elections in 1983 and 1988, Clerides won the office in 1993 and a second five-year term in 1998. During that time he ushered Cyprus into the European Union, despite the division.
The island was split into an internationally recognized, Greek-speaking south and a Turkish-speaking north after a 1974 invasion by Turkey, a reaction to a coup attempt by supporters of union with Greece.
The Cyprus problem was Clerides' passion, and in 2003 he unsuccessfully sought re-election for a limited third term to continue handling delicate reunification negotiations. He lost to Tassos Papadopoulos, who accused Clerides of giving too much away during reunification talks.
Clerides supported a U.N. reunification plan, which was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots and approved by Turkish Cypriots in separate referenda in April 2004.
Despite his ouster, he remained steadfast in his support for the U.N. plan whose rejection he warned would mean "burying the land of our fathers."
President Nicos Anastasiades said he was "devastated" at the news of Clerides' because he "was something more than a political father to me."
"Glafcos Clerides has left a political legacy that no one can ignore," Anastasiades told state broadcaster CyBC by telephone from Sri Lanka where he's attending a Commonwealth summit.
He said arrangements are being made to fly back to Cyprus as soon as possible.
Born in Nicosia on April 24, 1919, Clerides was a soldier, a prisoner of war, a lawyer and - for 50 years - a politician.
During World War II, he was among an estimated 30,000 Cypriot volunteers who fought for the allies. He served as a gunner and wireless operator in the British Royal Air Force and his aircraft was shot down over Germany in 1942. He spent the rest of the war as prisoner, foiled in two escape attempts.
Clerides was a member - codename "Hyperion" - of the underground nationalist movement EOKA, which waged a guerrilla campaign against British colonial rule between 1955 and 1959.
As a lawyer, Clerides defended suspected fighters in court. Sometimes Clerides was up against Rauf Denktash, a prosecutor who later became the Turkish Cypriot leader.
Those were the first of many rounds over the years between the two, whose friendly relationship nevertheless failed to translate into anything beneficial at the negotiating table.
Between 1968 and 1976 Clerides was negotiator for the Greek Cypriot side in talks with the Turkish Cypriots, represented by Denktash.
Clerides is survived by his daughter, Kate, a member of Parliament. His wife, Lila-Irene, died in 2007.
MENELAOS HADJICOSTIS, Associated Press
Copyright © 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.