BRIDGETOWN (Reuters) - Barbados Prime Minister David Thompson, who had been ill with pancreatic cancer, died at his home on Saturday aged 48, and his deputy was quickly sworn in to take charge of the Caribbean island’s government.
Thompson, who led the ruling Democratic Labour Party and took office as premier of the former British colony in January 2008 after winning elections, had not been seen in public for months. He recently made several visits to the United States for medical treatment after being diagnosed with cancer.
Thompson’s attorney general and deputy, Freundel Stuart, was appointed as the new prime minister by Barbados’ Governor-General, Sir Clifford Husbands, after local lawmakers nominated him for the post. Stuart was sworn in on Saturday.
The ruling Democratic Labour Party holds 21 of the 30 seats in the parliament of Barbados, the easternmost Caribbean island which has a population of 286,000.
The next elections are officially scheduled for 2012 on the island, which won independence in 1966 and has overcome the decline of its once-powerful sugar industry to grow relatively wealthy through high-end tourism, light industry and offshore financial services.
When he took office in 2008 at the age of 46, Thompson was Barbados’ youngest ever elected prime minister.
Although his illness was well known, his death still stunned some Barbadians. “I knew he was going to die, but I was still shocked,” said Shellie Welch, 34, a clerk.
“Barbados has lost its loyal son and faithful servant before he had the time to realize his lifetime dreams,” said Thompson’s wife Mara, who was at the family home with their three daughters when he died in the early hours of Saturday.
The late premier had last addressed the nation by radio on September 30, when he reshuffled his cabinet, giving the finance minister portfolio he had also held to Chris Sinckler.
Other Caribbean leaders, such as Grenada’s Prime Minister Tillman Thomas and St. Kitts and Nevis’ Prime Minister Denzil Douglas sent their condolences and praised Thompson.
Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Sandra Maler