The world’s longest serving prime minister, Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa of Bahrain, has died aged 84.
Prince Khalifa, who took office after Bahrain gained independence in 1971, had been receiving treatment at a hospital in the US, state media said.
He was an uncle to King Hamad and had a powerful role within the royal family.
The prince was regarded by some as a hardliner, and his removal was demanded by pro-democracy protesters during a failed Arab Spring uprising in 2011.
He said the Arab Spring had brought only “death, chaos and destruction”, and denied claims that he had blocked political reform efforts in Bahrain.
Analysts say the choice of his successor will signal whether Bahrain, which recently agreed to normalise relations with Israel, is looking to chart a new course.
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The Sunni Muslim-ruled state has continued to clamp down on dissent since security forces crushed the uprising nine years ago. The protests were led by the Shia majority community, which has complained of discrimination.
The government has banned all independent media from operating in the country, dissolved all opposition groups, and sought to silence online criticism.
Prominent human rights defenders, journalists, and opposition leaders have been imprisoned along with scores of protesters.
Hundreds of people have also been stripped of their Bahraini nationality, and five men have been executed after being convicted of terrorism offenses in trials that human rights groups said were marred by serious due process violations and allegations of torture.