Erbakan is credited with laying the foundations of Turkey's political Islamist movement [Reuters]

Necmettin Erbakan, a former Turkish prime minister and the founder of the country's modern Islamist movement, has died from heart failure at the age of 85.

The Anatolia news agency says Erbakan died at Ankara's Guven hospital on Sunday.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's current prime minister, who was for many years one of Erbakan's lieutenants, said: "Erbakan was a scientist who devoted his life to learning. We will remember him with gratitude."

A professor of mechanics, Erbakan was affectionately known as Hodja, or "teacher", by his followers as well as current and former members of his now-banned Welfare Party.

Yasin Hatipoglu, a close aide to Erbakan, said that "the world of Islam lost a great man".

Although he served only a year as prime minister before he was pressured by the military to step down in 1997, he is credited with laying the foundations for political Islam in modern Turkey.

After he left office, his Welfare Party was the shut down by Turkey's Constitutional Court for undermining secularism.

The end of the Welfare Party led to the birth of the now-ruling Justice and Development Party, as well as a number of small pro-Islamic parties.

Erbakan had alarmed the military, which sees itself as the guardian of Turkey's secular traditions, with his moves to allow female civil servants to wear Islamic attire at work and to rearrange working hours to fit fasting times in the holy month of Ramadan.

Erbakan resigned in June 1997 to appease the military, which has staged three coups since 1960.

He was later barred from politics for five years and also convicted of falsifying party records and hiding millions in cash reserves ordered seized after his party's closure in 1998, but was elected as the head of Felicity Party as soon as his political ban ended in 2003.

Erbakan was first elected to parliament as an independent legislator in 1969. As well as his year as prime minister, he also served as deputy prime minister in several coalitions in the 1970s.

Source: Agencies