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Qaboos bin Said al-Said, the sultan of Oman for nearly 50 years, died Friday, state-run media reported. He was 79.

He had been in Belgium to receive treatment for a medical condition the BBC said was suspected to be cancer. He returned to Oman before the new year so he could die in his home country.

Officials in Oman declared a three-day period of mourning.

Sultan Qaboos, who was unmarried, left no legal heirs. The BBC reported the Royal Family Council must choose a new leader within three days of Qaboos' death.

Oman's sultan also holds the positions of prime minister, supreme commander of the armed forces, and minister of defense, finance and foreign affairs.

Qaboos took over control of Oman in a peaceful coup in 1970 after disagreements over his father's leadership. Before that, he served in the British army in the 1st Battalion The Cameronians.

When he came into power, Qaboos outlawed slavery and used the country's oil revenues to improve living standards through investments in schools, roads and hospitals.
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