Turkish leaders are paying tribute to former prime minister Bulent Ecevit, who died Sunday night at age 81. He had been in a coma nearly six months after a stroke.

Ecevit was a central figure in Turkish politics for almost half a century, and was admired at home for his personal integrity and modesty.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who succeeded Mr. Ecevit in 2002, says Turkey's political establishment has lost one of its most important personalities.

Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer praised Mr. Ecevit for his political ethics and for upholding Turkey's secular values.

Politicians and other citizens flocked to the Ankara military hospital where he died to sign a book of condolences. A state funeral is scheduled for Wednesday.

Mr. Ecevit suffered a stroke in May after attending the funeral of a judge who was killed by a religious fanatic.

He served as Turkey's prime minister five times and was imprisoned after a 1980 military coup. His last period in office was from 1999 to 2002, when he lost an election to Mr. Erdogan's party. Voters held Mr. Ecevit responsible for a devastating financial crisis that wiped out 10 percent of the Turkish economy.

Mr. Ecevit was best known for ordering Turkey's invasion of Cyprus in 1974 after a coup by Greek Cypriots who wanted to unite with Greece.

Under his leadership, Turkey was accepted in 1999 as a candidate for membership in the European Union.

The former Turkish leader was also a published poet. He is survived by his wife, Rahsan.

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