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Last Updated: Monday, 4 August, 2003, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
Azerbaijan's 'royal' succession

By Chloe Arnold
BBC, Baku

The son of Azerbaijan's ailing president, Heydar Aliyev, who was appointed prime minister on Monday, has in the past had a reputation as a playboy and a gambler.

Ilham Aliyev's high-rolling past has been swept under the carpet and in recent months, with his father's health deteriorating, he has taken on a more serious role in the day-to-day running of government.

Heydar and Ilham Aliyev
Ilham (r) has been groomed to replace his father
If his father becomes too ill to govern, Mr Aliyev will take over the running of the country for three months as interim head of state before elections are called.

Politicians outside the ruling elite say they have long suspected the 41-year-old son of the ailing president was being groomed to step into his father's shoes.

And opposition parliamentarians who boycotted Monday's vote are furious at Mr Aliyev's appointment.

Isar Gambar, the leader of Musavat - Azerbaijan's most popular opposition party - said the government was trying to set up a monarchical system.

When we heard about Ilham today, we were all very happy
Gulya
Housewife
Meanwhile Western companies which have invested billions of dollars in Azerbaijan's oil and gas industry have been concerned about the succession issue since Heydar Aliyev fell ill earlier this year.

Many now say they are relieved that there is unlikely to be a messy handover period.

Wary

On the streets of Baku, some people said they were pleased that Ilham looked set to become the next president.

He can't possibly be like his father - he'll jump many hurdles before he becomes a true leader
Abbas
Taxi driver
Gulya, a housewife, said Ilham was a good man like his father.

"When we heard about Ilham today, we were all very happy," she said.

But others said they were wary of another Aliyev coming to power.

"He can't possibly be like his father," said taxi driver Abbas. "He'll jump many hurdles before he becomes a true leader."

Ilham Aliyev holds a string of high positions. He's the vice chairman of the state oil company, the deputy head of the ruling new Azerbaijan Party and his country's representative to the Council of Europe.

Flattering profiles

He is even the president of Azerbaijan's Olympic Committee.

Recently he has acted as his father's deputy in meetings with foreign dignitaries.

Pro-government newspapers have been quick to publish flattering profiles of Ilham over the last few weeks.

Both the president and his son have been registered as candidates in a presidential election to be held later this year.

But observers have warned there may still be a power struggle after Heydar Aliyev's death.

Fractious clans within the ruling regime could break ranks and decide to back their own preferred candidates in the election.

That could lead to a return to the sort of civil unrest that overtook the country at the break up of the Soviet Union.




SEE ALSO:
Azeri leader back at work
22 Apr 03  |  Europe
Profile: Heydar Aliyev
21 Apr 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Azerbaijan
09 Jul 03  |  Country profiles
Timeline: Azerbaijan
09 Jul 03  |  Country profiles



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