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Azerbaijan Moves To Scrap Limit On Aliyev Rule

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev
BAKU (Reuters) -- Azerbaijan's ruling party has said the legal limit on consecutive presidential terms should be scrapped, a step that could extend the Aliyev family's grip on power in the oil-producing state indefinitely.

Ilham Aliyev, son of long-serving leader Heydar, won a second and final term in October in a landslide election boycotted by the opposition and criticized by European monitors as less than democratic.

His New Azerbaijan party told parliament the two-term constitutional limit was undemocratic and should be changed by referendum, answering speculation over what might happen after Aliyev's second term expires in 2013.

The provision "denies the people the opportunity to express their will on the election of the head of state and is contradictory to the principles of democracy," party executive secretary Ali Akhmedov told parliament. "We propose that the next parliamentary sitting should discuss the possibility of holding a referendum in Azerbaijan on amending the constitution."

Ilham Aliyev was first elected president in 2003, when his ailing father stepped aside after leading the former Soviet republic in various posts for more than three decades.

A personality cult built around Heydar persists today. But despite record economic growth, analysts question whether Aliyev commands the same popularity as his father. Opposition leader Ali Kerimli accused the authorities of trying to "legalize monarchy."

Critics say the government is guilty of stifling democracy and media freedom, and the West of turning a blind eye for fear of losing access to Azeri oil reserves in the Caspian Sea.

Aliyev's rule has coincided with an oil-fueled economic boom in the Caucasus state, sandwiched between Russia and Iran.

The country of 8.3 million people -- mainly Shi'ite Muslims -- is in a region emerging as a major source of energy for the rest of the world but which was shaken in August by war between Georgia and Russia.

Azerbaijan's own "frozen conflict" in its breakaway, Armenian-backed region of Nagorno-Karabakh remains a threat to regional stability.