Tributes have been pouring in for Prince Rainier III of Monaco, who died early Wednesday morning at the age of 81. The monarch's only son, Prince Albert, has succeeded Prince Rainier as the ruler of the tiny Mediterranean principality.
Flags were lowered at half staff in Monaco, to mourn the passing of Prince Rainier, Europe's longest-ruling monarch. His only son, 47-year-old Prince Albert, succeeds him.
The prince's death was announced early Wednesday morning by Monaco's prime minister, Patrick Leclercq. Prince Rainier died at 6:35 a.m. local time, after being hospitalized for a month for respiratory, heart and kidney problems. Prince Rainier's body was transferred to the royal palace later in the day. His funeral is scheduled for mid-day, April 15.
Prince Rainier had been ailing for several years and his death was widely expected. But that has not stopped the eulogies from flooding in Wednesday for the prince, who ruled Monaco with a sometimes-iron hand, for more than half a century.
Even though France and Monaco have had sometimes fractious relations, French President Jacques Chirac expressed his great sorrow at the news of the prince's death, and praised his rule for putting Monaco on the international map.
Queen Elizabeth II of Britain also sent her condolences.
Russian President Vladimir Putin told Prince Rainier's heir, Prince Albert II, that his father "will remain in our memory as a gallant warrior who fought for the liberation of Europe during World War II."
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who was visiting Geneva, sent his "deepest condolences," saying "Prince Rainier remained dearly loved by his people and deeply respected by his peers as well as the world community."
German President Horst Koehler said the prince "fulfilled his duties as head of state with remarkable will power until the end." And Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero said the prince left Monaco "a legacy of prosperity and stability" with "an outstanding position inside the European family."
And in the mile-square principality, tucked inside the French Riviera, Monegasques like Bernard Vatrican expressed sorrow at the death of a ruler most had known all their lives.
Mr. Vatrican, who is writing a book on Monaco, said the death of Prince Rainier was like the death of one of his parents. Without Prince Rainier, Monaco could not have survived, he said, because he had done so much to develop the principality.
But Mr. Vatrican believes Prince Albert is the kind of ruler Monaco needs today. Monaco's new monarch is extremely interested in international issues like the environment and development. As a result, Mr. Vatrican said, Prince Albert will give Monaco another dimension, even as he seals the accomplishments of his father.