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Heydar Aliyev

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Updated: 24.10.2003

Former president of Azerbaijan

Heydar Aliyev has been a colossus on the stage of Azeri politics for more than 30 years. He took the top job in Soviet Azerbaijan in 1969, as First Secretary of the republic's Communist Party. In 1982 he became the first Muslim in the Soviet Politburo in Moscow, but was kicked out during Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika movement in 1987.

He didn't spend long in the political wilderness, returning triumphantly to Baku in 1993 to put a stop to the country's nascent civil war. Since then he has ruled with a rod of iron - encouraging foreign investment while discouraging political pluralism.

There is a huge contrast between the Azerbaijan of today and the country Heydar Aliyev took over in 1993, in a remarkable political comeback. The country had just lost its struggle to hold on to the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, and stood on the brink of civil war.

In 1999 Mr Aliyev appeared to be struggling with bad health, but bounced back after a major heart bypass operation in the US. He has since had prostate surgery and a hernia operation, but he has not lost his razor-sharp memory and his ability to speak at length without notes.

In an earlier health scare, in 1987 - after his removal from the Politburo, and the death of his wife - he suffered a heart attack. His political career was thought to be over, but Heydar Aliyev realised more quickly than most that the Communist era was ending, and quickly refashioned himself as a moderate Azeri nationalist.

Heydar Aliyev has won two presidential elections - neither regarded by international observers as fully free or fair - and promised to run for a third term as president this year. Yet, the health's condition didn't let him do that and in October 2003 he was succeeded by his son, Ilhan Aliyev.

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