Former Greek president Christos Sartzetakis dies aged 92

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Christos Sartzetakis poses for a photo in Athens on March 29, 1985.
Christos Sartzetakis poses for a photo in Athens on March 29, 1985.   -  Copyright  STR/AP Photo, File

Former Greek President Christos Sartzetakis has died aged 92 following a long period in hospital.

Sartzetakis had been in the intensive care unit of Athens’ Laiko hospital and passed away in the early hours of Thursday of respiratory failure, the hospital said in a statement.

Sartzetakis held the largely ceremonial post of president of Greece from 1985 to 1990, a politically tumultuous time in the country.

"In an atmosphere of intense political tension, his work on the formation of a government was impeccable,” said Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, extending his condolences to Sartzetakis’ family.

Sartzetakis first rose to prominence in his role as an investigating judge in the 1963 murder of politician Grigoris Lambrakis by right-wing extremists -- which triggered mass protests.

He was widely praised for resisting intense political pressure from military dictators during the case.

Sartzetakis was ultimately fired from the judicial branch in 1968 during the military dictatorship, arrested, tortured and imprisoned without trial.

He was eventually released in 1971 and was reinstated into the judiciary after the fall of the junta in 1974, rising to become a Supreme Court judge in 1982.

He was nominated as president by the socialist PASOK party in 1985 and served in that position until May 1990.

“During difficult times for the country and for democracy, [Sartzetakis] handled the case of the Lambrakis murder as an investigating judge with exemplary independence and judicial ethos, paying a heavy price for this stance during the years of the junta,” said current Greek President Katerina Sakellaropoulou in a statement.

“Later, as President of the Republic, he honoured the office with conscientiousness, dedication and a high sense of responsibility in the execution of his duties.”

Born in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki in April 1929, Sartzetakis had studied law before joining the judiciary in 1955.

He is survived by his wife and their daughter.