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Hundreds of supporters gathered outside the hospital, and there were public scenes of mourning after his death was announced.

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M Karunanidhi breathed his last on Tuesday evening at the Kauvery Hospital after a prolonged struggle with failing health.

The medical bulletin released on July 31 had informed that the former Chief Minister requires an extended period of hospitalisation due to age-related overall decline in Karunanidhi's general health, altered liver function and haematological parameters.

An atheist and self-declared rationalist, Mr Karunanidhi rose to political prominence in the 1940s as part of the Dravidian movement - which challenged the supremacy of upper caste Brahmins - and through his participation in anti-Hindi language agitations.

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Karunanidhi, a charismatic self-styled champion of the poor, had been in intensive care since July 28 in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.

Known for his shrewdness and manoeuvring abilities, Karunanidhi became Chief Minister for the first time on February 10, 1967, after the death of Annadurai.

Mr Karunanidhi managed to keep Tamil Nadu in the national spotlight by entering into alliances with the current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in 1990 and then the Congress in 2004.

And in a career spanning 80 years, he wore different hats - a student leader, scriptwriter, orator and politician. To his credit, Karunanidhi kept the party intact for the 13 long years in the Opposition fighting against a charismatic leader like MGR.

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He was arrested by the police in 2001, when Jayalalithaa was chief minister, over alleged corruption in the construction of flyovers in Chennai.

Karunanidhi's predecessor Annadurai was also in office when he died.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has led tributes to the veteran leader.

"As the DMK began to engage in electoral politics, the hard edge of social reform in its films was softened and the films increasingly became vehicles for promoting the party as such rather than reform ideology".

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His children have played a key role in the party, most prominently his son MK Stalin and daughter Kanimozhi.