Necmettin Erbakan, the long-serving leader of Turkey's conservative Islamic movement, died Sunday at the age of 84.
Mr. Erbakan was best known for the short-lived government he headed in the 1990s. He was driven from power in February 1997 after just a year in office by pressure from the Turkish military, which saw Mr. Erbakan as a threat to Turkey's secular nature. The bloodless change of government that followed is referred to by many Turks as a "postmodern coup."
Mr. Erbakan died of natural causes Sunday in an Ankara hospital, Anadolu Ajansi, Turkey's state news agency, reported.
His views, unlike those of his successors in Turkey's current government, were unabashedly anti-Western and Islamist. At the time he held office, however, the power of Turkey's civilian leaders to make fundamental changes to the country's foreign or domestic policies were limited by a military-dominated state.
As prime minister, Mr. Erbakan declined an invitation to a European Union summit—he opposed Turkey's seeking membership in a largely Christian club. He traveled widely in the Arab world, where he sought to refocus Turkey's relations. Visiting Libya, Mr. Erbakan supported the government against terrorism allegations related to the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, by a Libyan. He also created a group of most populous Muslim countries, called the D-8, as counterweight to the G-7 group of industrialized nations.
Yet Mr. Erbakan's stint as prime minister of a coalition government was a short episode in a lengthy career as Turkey's pre-eminent religious conservative politician, which began when he established the Milli Gorus, or National View, movement in 1969. The movement's core tenet was that the attempt to imitate the West was the root cause of the Muslim world's decline.
Mr. Erbakan headed a series of political parties that were created, then shut down by the military as a threat to Turkey's secular foundations, and then reformed under new names.
Turkey's current leaders, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul were both members of Mr. Erbakan's Refah, or Welfare Party, when he stepped down from office in 1997. The party was then banned by the Constitutional Court, and Mr. Erbakan was temporarily barred from politics.
The party re-emerged under a new name, Fazilet, or Virtue, but was banned again, after which the movement split. Mr. Erbakan and other traditionalists formed the Saadet, or Felicity, Party. A more pragmatic group led by Messrs. Erdogan and Gul broke away to create the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which abandoned many of the Islamist aspects of the Milli Gorus movement. The AKP, for example, has launched membership talks with the EU.
The AKP won elections in 2002, and is widely expected to secure a third term in office in elections set for June 12. The Felicity Party has struggled to compete, winning just 2.3% of the vote at the last elections in 2007, compared with the AKP's 47%. The party also went through internal tensions last year, when Mr. Erbakan's allies were pushed aside by a new leader, only for Mr. Erbakan to fight back and take the leadership in October.
Mr. Erbakan's funeral will be held in Ankara on Tuesday, Anadolu Ajansi reported.