FILE PHOTO: Portugal's former President and Prime Minister Mario Soares is seen during an interview with Reuters in Lisbon June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante/File Photo(reuters_tickers)
LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's former president and prime minister Mario Soares, who was a central figure in the country's return to democracy in the 1970s after decades of rightist dictatorship, died on Saturday aged 92, doctors said.
He was hospitalised on Dec. 13 and had mostly been in a coma since then.
Once popularly known as "King" Soares for his regal manner, the founder of the Portuguese Socialist Party was premier three times and later spent a decade as the country's head of state.
"Today Portugal lost its father of liberty and democracy, the person and face the Portuguese identify most with the regime that was born on April 25, 1974," the Socialist Party said in a statement.
The government decreed three days of mourning.
April 25, 1974 was the day of Portugal's 'Carnation Revolution' when it overthrew the dictatorship that had been headed by strongman Antonio de Oliveira Salazar.
Soares, who was born on Dec. 7, 1924, headed the country's first democratically elected government in 1976.
Condolences rushed in with the news of his death.
"My sincere condolences to all Portuguese on the death of Mario Soares," European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in a tweet.
Soares left office in 1996 after the maximum tenure as president permitted under the constitution with his popularity at a peak. For years he remained one of the country's most influential politicians. He sat on the presidential advisory council and still took part in its meetings in early 2015.
One of his last important public appearances was in late 2014, when he visited jailed former Socialist prime minister Jose Socrates, calling him a victim of a slander campaign. Socrates, who denies any wrongdoing, is still being investigated on suspicion of corruption and tax evasion.
After flirting briefly with communism at university and then embracing Portugal's democratic movement as a Socialist, Soares was jailed 12 times and then exiled for his political activities during the dictatorship of Salazar.
During his career as a lawyer he often defended the government's political foes. With the collapse of the dictatorship, he returned to Portugal to a triumphant reception.
One of his two children, Joao, has followed his father into politics and served as mayor of Lisbon. He briefly served as culture minister in the current Socialist administration, but had to resign in April after threatening to slap critics who had called him incompetent and rude.
(Reporting By Andrei Khalip and Axel Bugge; Editing by Stephen Powell)