The government says former Maltese Prime Minister Dom Mintoff, who was in power when the island nation became a republic, died Monday. He was 96.

Mintoff was Malta's longest-serving lawmaker, representing the Labor Party from 1947-1998. He was prime minister from 1955 -1958 and from 1971-1984.

Malta became a republic in 1974, installing a president as head of state in the place of the British monarch. Mintoff then worked to close Britain's military base in 1979.

Known for his confrontational character, Mintoff engaged in tough disputes with Britain over its role, the Roman Catholic Church over its influence and western Europe over his ties with Libya, China and North Korea.

He also brought down his own government in 1998 in a party dispute. Labor has been in opposition ever since.