|MALIETOA TANUMAFILI (file 1997/ap)|
APIA, Samoa -- King Malietoa Tanumafili II, one of the world's longest-reigning monarchs, died Friday, the prime minister's office said Saturday. He was 94.
The king succeeded the Malietoa title in 1940, when his father passed away. He was made Samoa's joint head of state with Tupua Tamasese Meaole when the country gained independence from New Zealand in 1962, and he became sole head of state a year later when Tupua Tamasese passed away.
He was the world's third longest-serving sovereign after Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who has reigned since 1946, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, who ascended to the throne in 1952.
King Malietoa's successor will be elected by the legislature to a five-year term as stipulated in the Samoan constitution.
King Malietoa made numerous state visits, including a trip to China in 1976. He also attended the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, and was among the foreign dignitaries who attended the funeral service of Japanese Emperor Hirohito in 1989.
In American Samoa, Governor Togiola T.A. Tulafono offered his condolences to the people of neighboring Samoa. Many American Samoans considered King Malietoa to be the father of the two Samoas and he was a frequent visitor to US territory.
Samoa is a group of islands in the South Pacific about halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand.