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Azerbaijan: Former President Aliyev Dies

Washington, 12 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Hospital officials in the U.S. city of Cleveland say former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev has died at the age of 80. Aliyev had been admitted to the Cleveland Clinic last August for treatment of congestive heart failure and kidney problems. Hospital officials said he died at 10 a.m. local time (4 p.m. Prague time), but declined to provide further details.

Tahir Taghi-Zadeh, the political counselor for the Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington, confirmed in an interview with RFE/RL that Aliyev died.

According to Taghi-Zadeh, Aliyev's death will be a blow to all Azerbaijanis, but he said his country's society will carry on and be the late leader's legacy. "It is an enormous blow for the whole Azerbaijani public, the Azerbaijani society, for the people of Azerbaijan. But I think that the country will survive and it will be a legacy to the memory of the late President Aliyev," he said.

Aliyev was one of a number of Soviet-era leaders who shed communist ideals and adopted the banner of nationalism in the post-Soviet era. While he voiced support for democratic reforms, his critics said he also employed authoritarian ways to maintain his power.

His son, Ilham Aliyev, succeeded him in office following 15 October presidential elections. Foreign observers criticized the elections as flawed and violent riots erupted afterwards.