Former Greenland premier Jonathan Motzfeldt, who spearheaded a drive for more self-rule and opposed U.S. bases on the semi-autonomous Danish territory, has died, the local government said. He was 72.
Motzfeldt led the Arctic island's government between 1979-1991 and again between 1997-2002 and is considered one of the founding fathers of its home rule agreement with Denmark.
He was admitted to the Queen Ingrid Hospital in Nuuk with pneumonia, and died there of a brain hemorrhage Thursday, the government said.
Greenlanders knew him as "Junnuk," a pipe-smoking Lutheran priest-turned-politician, who led the mostly Inuit population on a path toward autonomy. As a member of the social democratic Siumut party, he became Greenland's first government leader after home rule was introduced in 1979.
"Junnuk was for many years the pillar and beacon of the Greenlandic people, our national focal point," Greenland Premier Kuupik Kleist said Friday.
Motzfeldt was forced to leave politics in the early 1990s because of alcohol problems, but returned six years later.
In 2002 he lost an internal party struggle to fellow Siumut Hans Enoksen who replaced him as premier. Motzfeldt then became speaker of Greenland's Parliament, but resigned in 2008 amid allegations that he groped a female civil servant. He denied wrongdoing and was never charged.
Motzfeldt started his battle for autonomy in the mid-1950s with a group of young Inuit activists. The Arctic island was then a Danish province governed from Copenhagen.
As premier he opposed a 1951 defense agreement between the United States and NATO-member Denmark allowing four U.S. Air Force bases on Greenland.
Most Greenlanders opposed the deal because they never profited economically from the rent-free bases.
All except the U.S. Air Force base in Thule, northern Greenland, have since been shut down.
Opposition grew after a Danish government admitted in a 1996 report that the United States had stored nuclear weapons in Greenland during the Cold War, although Denmark had banned nuclear weapons from its soil in 1957.
Motzfeldt demanded that the Danish government re-negotiate the defense treaty with the United States, which it never did.
He married Kristjana Gudrun Gudmundsdottir in 1992. The couple had no children.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.