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ST. GEORGE'S, Grenada (AP) -- Sir Eric Gairy, the authoritarian leader who

served as Grenada's prime minister for 12 years, has died at his home in

southern Grenada. He was 75.

Gairy died Saturday in Grand Anse, said Jerry Romain, a leader of Gairy's

political party. The cause of death wasn't disclosed. Gairy suffered a stroke

last year; he also had diabetes and glaucoma.

State-run radio played somber music to mark Gairy's death, and Prime

Minister Keith Mitchell said a state funeral was being planned.

"We have lost a true statesman, a person who genuinely loved poor people,"

Mitchell said.

Gairy dominated politics on this Caribbean island for three decades, and

became Grenada's first prime minister after independence from Britain in 1974.

He was accused of numerous human rights abuses, and a paramilitary band of

thugs known as the "Mongoose Gang" terrorized his opponents.

First as the island's de facto ruler and then as prime minister, Gairy

personally approved government spending and hiring decisions and granted

contracts to his supporters. As his years in power lengthened, he responded to

growing dissent with repression and restrictions on organized labor and the

media.

Gairy took an interest in UFOs, once urging the United Nations to

investigate them. He left Grenada for talks at the United Nations on UFOs on

March 12, 1979. The next day, Maurice Bishop, of the opposition New Jewel

Movement, took control of Grenada in a coup.

The United States granted Gairy refuge, but quickly recognized the new

People's Revolutionary Government.

Bishop was assassinated, along with 10 other people, on Oct. 19, 1983. Six

days later, U.S. Marines and paratroopers, along with a small regional force,

invaded the island and ousted a Marxist junta that had seized power.

Gairy returned home and campaigned for his Grenada United Labor Party, which

he founded in 1954. He told supporters he was a different man from the

high-living "Uncle Gairy" who ran the island before the coup.

But his party lost elections in 1984, 1990 and 1995. On June 7, 1996, he

suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in Venezuela.

Gairy and his wife, Cynthia, were separated. His two daughters recently won

control of his estate because of his deteriorated physical and mental

condition. One of his daughters, Marcelle Gairy of London, serves as Grenada's

high commissioner.

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