NICOSIA, Cyprus – Tassos Papadopoulos, the hardline former president of Cyprus who ushered the divided island into the European Union after rallying Greek Cypriots to reject a U.N. peace deal, died Friday of lung cancer. He was 74.
Papadopoulos served as president from 2003 to March 2008. A longtime chain smoker, he was hospitalized last month with severe breathing problems.
His successor, President Dimitris Christofias, called him "one of the protagonists of our country's modern history." Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat expressed sorrow over Papadopoulos' death and conveyed his condolences to the late president's family, his official Web site said.
A British-trained lawyer, Papadopoulos was a veteran of Cyprus politics whose career spanned most of the island's turbulent history since it gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960.
He was a leader of the Greek Cypriot guerrilla group EOKA, which waged the anti-colonial campaign. He also served as the youngest cabinet minister in the island's first post-independence government, at 26.
Papadopoulos was for a time the chief Greek Cypriot negotiator in settlement talks with the breakaway Turkish Cypriots after 1974, when Turkey invaded the island in response to a coup by supporters of uniting the island with Greece.
It was Papadopoulos who submitted a proposal in 1977 for a federated Cyprus tying together two distinct zones. The proposal became the basis for all subsequent settlement initiatives.
After several stints in parliament, he was elected leader of the center-right Democratic Party in 2000.
He reached the apex of his career three years later when he became the island's 5th president with the backing of the island's largest party, communist-rooted Akel.
Over his five-year tenure, he oversaw the island's entry into the European Union and its adoption of the euro currency.
Papadopoulos will be remembered best for an emotional televised appeal to Greek Cypriots to reject a reunification plan brokered by then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which he vilified as entrenching division rather than ending it.
Three quarters of Cypriots obliged him in an April 2004 referendum. Two-thirds of Turkish Cypriots accepted the plan.
Papadopoulos' final campaign message implored Greek Cypriots to cast their vote in his favor demonstrating that they "have neither grown tired, nor have they regretted their referendum decision."
Opinion polls had consistently put Papadopoulos ahead but in a surprise upset, he was ousted in the first round of voting. Christofias went on to win in a runoff.
Papadopoulos is survived by his wife Fotini and four children. Government Spokesman Stefanos Stefanou said the cabinet has declared a three-day mourning period during which flags on schools and public buildings will fly at half-mast.
Papadopoulos' state funeral will be on Monday, which has been declared a public holiday.