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APIA, Samoa (AP) -- King Malietoa Tanumafili II, one of the world's longest-reigning monarchs, has died, the prime minister's office said Saturday. He was 94.
Malietoa died Friday night at Tupua Tamasese National Hospital in the Samoan capital of Apia, where he had been staying for about a week. The cause of death was not immediately available.
The king succeeded the Malietoa title in 1940, when his father passed away. He was made Samoa's joint head of state with Tupua Tamasese Meaole when the country gained independence from New Zealand in 1962, and he became sole head of state a year later when Tupua Tamasese passed away.
He was the world's third longest-serving sovereign after Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne in 1952.
Malietoa's successor will be elected by the legislature to a five-year term as stipulated in the Samoan constitution.
As king, Malietoa made numerous state visits, including a trip to China in 1976. He also attended the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and was among the foreign dignitaries that attended the funeral service of Japanese Emperor Hirohito in 1989.
In 1977, Queen Elizabeth II visited Samoa for a day and presented Malietoa with the Collar Badge and Star of the G.C.M.G., the Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George.
In American Samoa, Gov. Togiola T.A. Tulafono offered his condolences to the people of neighboring Samoa on Malietoa's death.
Many American Samoans considered him to be the father of the two Samoas and he was a frequent visitor to the U.S. territory's annual Flag Day Festivities.
Samoa is a group of islands in the South Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand that is home to 200,000 people.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)