Former Turkish prime minister Mesut Yilmaz, who oversaw three governments in the 1990s as the country lurched between political crises, died Friday of cancer at the age of 73, his family said.
A conservative with a pugnacious style and trademark square glasses, Yilmaz also served as foreign minister in the 1980s.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s office called Yilmaz “one of the pre-eminent figures of Turkey’s political life”.
Yilmaz’s terms in office covered years of unstable coalitions, political scandals and a growing conflict with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
His last premiership in 1997-99 was punctuated by a growing rift with neighbouring Syria.
In 1998, Yilmaz sparked an outcry across the Arab world by threatening to “poke out the eyes” of Syrian President Hafez al-Assad for his support of the PKK.
Yilmaz led the Anap (Motherland) party before suffering a crushing election defeat in 2002, when Erdogan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) stormed to power.
Suspected of embezzlement during the privatisation of a bank in the 1990s, he became the first former government leader to be tried by the supreme court for corruption.
The court suspended the hearings for five years in 2006 and eventually dropped the case after no new charges were brought.
Yilmaz tried to resurrect his political career by winning a seat in parliament in 2007, but his influence waned.
He had two sons, one of whom was shot dead in 2017.
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