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Ketumile Masire, former Botswana president, dies at age 91

June 23, 2017 GMT
CAPTION CORRECTS SPELLING OF GABORONE FILE -- In this Oct. 19, 2009, file photo, former Botswana President Ketumile Masire attends a news conference in London. Authorities in Botswana say Masire died Thursday, June 22 , 2017 at the age of 91 in the country's capital Gaborone after an illness. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
CAPTION CORRECTS SPELLING OF GABORONE FILE -- In this Oct. 19, 2009, file photo, former Botswana President Ketumile Masire attends a news conference in London. Authorities in Botswana say Masire died Thursday, June 22 , 2017 at the age of 91 in the country's capital Gaborone after an illness. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — Botswana on Friday announced three days of mourning after the death of 91-year-old Ketumile Masire, a former president who led the country for nearly two decades.

Masire died “peacefully” and surrounded by family members at a hospital in Gaborone, the capital, on Thursday night, Masire’s family said in a statement. He had been critically ill.

Botswana will officially mourn Masire until Sunday, and information about his funeral will be released in coming days, President Ian Khama said. The president’s father, Seretse Khama, was Botswana’s first president after independence from Britain in 1966.

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Masire was Botswana’s second president and was in office from 1980 to 1998. He presided over the southern African country’s economic growth and record of clean governance on a continent frequently buffeted by turmoil.

The diamond trade and wildlife tourism are major sources of revenue for the country of 2 million people, which nevertheless faces poverty, a high HIV/AIDS rate and other problems.

In neighboring South Africa, the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Friday cited comments by Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader who became South Africa’s first black president, at a state banquet for Masire in 1996.

“Our country has much to learn from Botswana — both from your towering successes and your efforts to deal with the difficulties,” said Mandela, adding that Masire was “a natural and capable leader of the region’s collective efforts towards growth and development.”

After his presidency, Masire became involved in reconciliation efforts and election monitoring in other African countries. In 2007, he started a foundation that seeks to promote development in Botswana and the region.

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Follow Christopher Torchia on Twitter at www.twitter.com/torchiachris