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Last Updated: Monday, 21 April, 2003, 17:54 GMT 18:54 UK
Azeri leader collapses on live TV
Azeri President Heydar Aliev just before his collapse
Aliyev has been rumoured to be in poor health for years
The President of Azerbaijan, Heydar Aliev, has collapsed twice during a ceremony broadcast live on state television, prompting new speculation about his health.

Television showed Mr Aliev, 79, clutching his heart and swaying as he addressed cadets from a military academy in the capital Baku.

A statement from the presidential press service later said he had merely lost his balance after suffering a drop in blood pressure and was now recovering well.

The leader of the oil-rich Caspian state has been rumoured to be in poor health for years, having suffered a heart attack in 1987.

"Something has struck me," he was quoted as saying, moments before he was whisked away by aides.

Mr Aliev resumed his speech after about 15 minutes, looking pale but apparently in control of himself.

But a few minutes later he collapsed for a second time, apparently falling backwards on to the floor.

Journalists were ushered out of the hall.

A few minutes later, the broadcast resumed again, showing smiling Mr Aliyev waving to about 2,000-strong audience, before leaving the hall.

Health record

The latest incident is bound to renew speculation about his political future.

Mr Aliev has undergone surgery more than once in the last four years, but has continued to insist he will run for re-election next year.

He had a major hear bypass operation at a clinic in the United States in 1999.

In 2002 he is believed to have undergone prostate surgery at the same clinic.

He had a hernia operation earlier this year.

Political survivor

Mr Aliev - a former KGB general - has led Azerbaijan on and off since the 1969, when he was appointed Communist Party chief of the then Soviet republic.

Since becoming president of independent Azerbaijan in 1993, Mr Aliev has consolidated his power still further.

He has been credited with inviting foreign companies to invest heavily in the oil-rich Caspian Sea, where construction of a multi-billion-dollar pipeline has just begun.

But opposition parties and human rights groups say Mr Aliev has a dismal human-rights record, with most of his opponents either in jail or living outside the country.

The ailing president has also been accused of grooming his son Ilham to become his successor.

Mr Aliev is due to celebrate his 80th birthday next month.


SEE ALSO:
Aliev: Azerbaijan's kingpin
21 Apr 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Azerbaijan
10 Mar 03  |  Country profiles



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