The former president of the Seychelles and once the longest serving head of state in the Commonwealth, France Albert René, has died at the age of 83 at his home on the island of Mahe.
Seizing power in 1977, he stayed in office until 2004 – dominating the islands almost single-handedly during the one-party state era between 1977 and 1992.
During that time, he thwarted at least three serious coup attempts, most notably the invasion by a band of South African mercenaries under the command of Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare.
He was born on the island of Farquhar, on November 16 1935. His parents, Louisa Morgan and Price Rene managed the plantation on the island which is 400 miles south of Mahe, the Seychelles largest island.
The family returned there when France-Albert was 5-years-old and he was sent to St. Joseph’s Convent, and then to St Louis College, which was run by the Marist Brothers.
At the age of 18 he took up the chance of a scholarship in Switzerland to study theology.
From there he travelled to England, where he concluded his secondary education at St Mary’s College in Southampton.
By 1957, he had qualified as a lawyer, studying at King’s College London and joining Middle Temple. It was during this period that he married Karen Handley, with whom he had a daughter, and became interested in the workings of the Labour Party.
After the 1977 coup d’état, Karen Handley – by then estranged – said: “René plotted his communist revolution from my semi in Luton.”
He spent a further two years in England from 1961, studying at the LSE. On returning home he became a founding member of the fledgling People’s United Party, a broadly pro-union movement set up to rival to the Democratic Party (DP) led by a fellow London-trained lawyer, James Mancham.
When independence from Britain came in 1976, Mancham’s party was in the majority in the islands’ Legislative Assembly and he was made President.
He formed a coalition administration with René as his Prime Minister.
On June 5 1977, while Mancham was in London for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Commonwealth Conference, René and a band of men seized control of the police station and announced that they were in charge.
He re-married in 1975 to Geva Adam, whom he divorced after 20 years of marriage.
In 1992 he got married for a third time to Sarah Zarquani, 25 years his junior and with whom he had three daughters. She survives him along with his children.
He finally stepped down in favour of his vice-president, James Michel, in 2004.
He died in Mahe, yesterday aged 83.