The president of the United Arab Emirates, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died Tuesday, according to state-run media. He was 86.
Sheik Zayed, who has been absolute ruler of the United Arab Emirates for more than 30 years, since forging the federation from seven Persian Gulf states, had been ailing for several years and did not attend Arab summits. He had a kidney transplant in August 2000.
His eldest son, Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has been heir apparent since his father named him in 1969 as crown prince of Abu Dhabi, the capital and richest of the seven emirates.
The ruler of the emirate of Dubai, Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid, will act as president of the seven emirate group until a new overall ruler is chosen.
Abu Dhabi TV interrupted regular broadcasting to break the news of Sheik Zayed's death, but no cause of death was provided. The announcement was followed by an Islamic cleric appearing on TV reading verses from the Quran.
The official Emirates news agency, WAM, also announced news of his death, saying: "The presidential court announces to the people of the Emirates, the Arab and Muslim worlds, and the entire world, that the leader of the nation and the builder of its civilization, His Highness Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, died on the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 2, the 19th of Ramadan. May God have mercy on him."
Sheik Zayed, ruler of Abu Dhabi since 1966, was the founding leader of the United Arab Emirates, which he had ruled since the seven emirates forged a union and took independence from Britain in 1971. He has watched over the Emirates' development from a cluster of desert provinces ruled by Arab tribes to a world-leading financial and banking center.
While the rulers of the seven emirates must choose the next president, they are expected to settle on Sheik Khalifa. It was not immediately clear when a decision would be made on Sheik Zayed's successor.