MORONI, Comoros (AP) _ Comoros President Mohamed Taki Abdulkarim has died at age 62, the nation's religious leader announced Friday.

Abdulkarim, president of the three-island chain in the Indian Ocean, died during the night, Saed Mohamed Toihir told state radio.

He gave no further details, but French radio reported the president had suffered a heart attack.

Abdulkarim will be succeeded by Tadjidine Ben Said Massonde, the president of the Comoros High Council, who will serve on an interim basis until elections that are expected to be held in three months' time.

Abdulkarim was the fourth president of the Comoros islands, in the Indian Ocean north of Madagascar, since the nation's independence from France in 1975.

In August 1997, the island of Anjouan declared independence and asked to be reunited with France, believing it would have better development, health and education. Paris rebuffed the request, saying the Comoros islands should stick together.

A month later, the government sent troops into Anjouan in an unsuccessful attempt to stop the rebellion.

After the defeat of government troops, more than 99 percent voted in favor of secession. But the move was rejected by all nations except Libya.

Moheli, the smallest of the three islands, joined the move for secession but did not vote on it.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan praised Abdulkarim for trying to improves the lives of his people.

Annan expressed hope that the president's death would serve as a ``catalyst for all Comorians to unite and seek a peaceful solution to the country's political problems,'' the U.N. chief said.

Comoros depends on the export of cloves and vanilla for much of its income. The annual per capita income is less than $200 a year.

Although the capital, Moroni, was calm Friday, the army was mobilized to keep order.