PRISTINA, Kosovo – Adem Demaci, a human rights defender who embodied Kosovo's national resistance and was often called the "Balkans' Mandela," has died at 82.
Deputy Speaker Xhavit Haliti interrupted Thursday's parliamentary session to report Demaci's death, saying "our teacher, the man who spent 28 years of his life in Serb prisons" has died. The parliament in Pristina held a minute of silence and suspended the session.
President Hashim Thaci declared three days of mourning, adding that Demaci's funeral would be with "the highest state honors."
Pristina hospital chief Bujar Gashi said Demaci died of natural causes.
Demaci, who studied literature, law and education, was first known as a writer, especially for his 1958 novel titled "The Snakes of Blood," which explored blood vendettas in Kosovo and Albania.
A human rights defender, Demaci was arrested three times and spent 28 years in jail for resisting then-Yugoslavia's communist regime. In 1991, he was awarded the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought and in 2010 he received the order Hero of Kosovo.
He was also for a time the leading politician of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the independence fighters in the country's 1998-1999 war, which ended after NATO intervened to stop a bloody Serb crackdown against Kosovo Albanian separatists.
Demaci never affiliated for long with a political group, being critical of their leaders and not pleased with the international deal with Serbia that ended the war.
After the war, Demaci still participated in politics, held several media posts and became more involved in defending the rights of minorities.
Demaci is survived by a wife, a son and a daughter.