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UAE President Sheikh Zayed Dead at 86

The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, has died. A brief announcement read on Abu Dhabi television said the 86-year-old president died Tuesday evening after a long illness.

Details of the death were not immediately available.

Sheikh Zayed, who ruled Abu Dhabi since 1966, was the founding leader of the United Arab Emirates, after seven Arab territories gained independence from Britain in 1971.

He had been re-elected president at five-year intervals by the ruling members of the seven emirates.

Sheikh Zayed underwent successful kidney transplant surgery in the United States four years ago.

Sheikh Zayed oversaw the United Arab Emirates' transformation from a group of barren tribal principalities into a stable and prosperous modern nation.

Born into Abu Dhabi's ruling tribe in 1918, Sheikh Zayed grew up to guide his emirate into the oil age, as exploration began in earnest in the late 1940s. By 1962, oil exports were on their way and so was the tiny emirate that once relied on pearl diving and fishing for its livelihood.

Sheikh Zayed believed security and prosperity of the region could only be assured only through unity and in 1971, the six states of the Persian Gulf took independence from Britain and formed the United Arab Emirates. The next year, a seventh state joined the federation.

Sheikh Zayed was a man of great vision and undertook a spectacular modernization program for the entire country. In just a few decades, the U.A.E. has built booming banking and tourism sectors, and at present levels of production, oil and gas supplies are expected to last for 100 years.

Some information for this report provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.