SKOPJE, Macedonia — Kiro Gligorov, the first democratically elected president of Macedonia who served two terms at the helm of the country in the 1990s as it became independent from Yugoslavia, has died. He was 94.
The head of Gligorov's office, Zivko Kondev, said Monday that the former president died in his sleep at his home in the Macedonian capital, Skopje, on Sunday evening.
Gligorov became president of Macedonia in January 1991, when it was still a Yugoslav republic. He led his countrymen through a referendum, in which they voted for independence. The territory of 2.1 million people became the only republic to secede from Yugoslavia without a war.
Gligorov suffered head injuries and lost an eye during an assassination attempt in October 1995 when a bomb blast targeted his car as he headed to work in Skopje. His driver and a bystander were killed. The president spent several months in the hospital, emerging with a lifelong deep scar above his right eye.
No suspects were ever arrested for the bombing, and the investigation into the attempted assassination has made little headway in the intervening years.
Born in the central Macedonian town of Shtip on May 3, 1917, Gligorov served two consecutive presidential terms, leading the nation from January 1991 to November 1999.
The early days of his presidency were overshadowed by a bitter dispute with southern neighbor Greece over the newly independent nation's name — a dispute that continues to this day. Athens objected to the use of the name "Macedonia," saying it implied territorial ambitions on its own northern province of the same name. It also objected to a symbol on the new country's flag and articles of the Macedonian constitution that Greece believed implied territorial claims.
Greece imposed a crippling 19-month embargo on its northern neighbor, hammering the emerging country's economy. In 1995, the Macedonian government signed an accord with Athens agreeing to remove the symbol from its flag and revising some articles of the constitution, but talks on the country's name have made little progress. In official bodies such as the United Nations, the country is known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
Gligorov also faced domestic unrest, with the republic's large ethnic Albanian minority pressing for greater cultural and political autonomy.
The demands eventually boiled over into armed conflict about two years after Gligorov's second term was over, with ethnic Albanian rebels battling government troops for about six months in 2001. The two sides eventually signed an internationally brokered peace accord under which minorities were guaranteed greater rights, and NATO peacekeepers were sent to the country.
Gligorov is survived by two daughters and a son. His wife, Nada, died in 2009.