New Delhi: Three-time Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee died Thursday, sparking tributes from across the political spectrum as current leader Narendra Modi mourned the "irreplaceable loss" of the respected statesman.
The 93-year-old had battled poor health for years but his condition deteriorated sharply in recent days, with doctors placing him on life support.
The sudden turn sparked a flurry of visits from top dignitaries. Imran Khan, due to take oath as Pakistan's next prime minister on Saturday, hailed Vajpayee as "a towering figure" in a statement posted on his Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party's official Twitter page.
"Atal Bihari Vajpayee's efforts to improve Pakistan-India ties will always be remembered," Khan said.
"It is through the establishment of peace that we can truly honour... (his) legacy", Khan added.
Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli also paid tribute to Vajpayee, tweeting: "India and its millions will always remember you fondly."
Vajpayee withdrew from the public eye after the BJP-led alliance suffered a shock election defeat in 2004.
He had since rarely been seen or heard in public. It was widely reported that he suffered a stroke in 2009, which largely confined him to his New Delhi residence.
He continued to inspire devotion in many parts of the country, especially in key bellwether Hindu-heartland states in north and central India....