The body of Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is returning to Addis Ababa after the 57-year-old died suddenly overnight from an undisclosed illness in a Brussels hospital.
Seizing power from a military junta in 1991, Meles steered one of Africa’s poorest nations to economic stability.
In a statement, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso joined a chorus of tributes from world leaders.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Meles had “set an example for the region” by “lifting millions of Ethiopians out of poverty”.
Several African leaders also sent their condolences.
While Washington backed Meles as he helped crush al Qaeda-linked militants in Africa, human rights groups say he was an authoritarian who cracked down on dissent.
As well as sending troops to fight al Shabaab rebels in neighbouring Somalia, Meles went to war with Eritrea in a conflict that killed tens of thousands.
Deputy leader Hailemariam Desalegn will become acting prime minister.
Officials have stayed silent on what caused Meles’ death. He had been ill for some time and the official statement said he died due to a sudden infection.
Ethiopia has seen double digit economic growth in recent years thanks to investment from India, Turkey and China. But despite the size of the economy tripling in just 15 years, most people still live on about 2.50 euros per day.