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1982: Brezhnev rumours sweep Moscow

Speculation is growing that Leonid Brezhnev, who has ruled the Soviet Union for the past two decades, has died.

Suspicions that a senior Communist party figure had died were fuelled by a sudden change of the television schedules on Wednesday evening.

Light entertainment programmes were replaced by sombre documentaries about the Russian revolution and the Second World War.

Newsreaders on the main evening news bulletin dressed in black but made no announcement of any death.

Mr Brezhnev was last seen in public on Sunday at the traditional Red Square parade in Moscow to mark the anniversary of the 1917 revolution.

The 75-year-old leader had not looked well for several years but there was no indication of his imminent death.

Mr Brezhnev's failure to sign a public message of congratulations to Angola's president on Wednesday - Angola's national day - has fuelled belief he is dead.

The Soviet leader normally signs messages to all "friendly" heads of states so the absence of his signature represents a previously unheard of breach of protocol.

Successor

If he has indeed died it will mark the end of an era for the Soviet Union.

Leonid Brezhnev ousted Russia's former leader, Nikita Khrushchev, in a coup in 1964.

He has since been in undisputed control of USSR and its 260 million people.

His control of the fates of another 120 million people in eastern-bloc Communist states was famously demonstrated by the crushing of an attempt to liberalise Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Despite his declining health his grip on power has never weakened and he has outlasted five American presidents.

The delay in confirmation of Mr Brezhnev's death may mean his successor has not yet been chosen.

Commentators say the most likely candidate is Mr Brezhnev's closest colleague, Konstantin Chernenko.

In Context
The following day an official announcement was made of Leonid Brezhnev's death.

He had died of a heart attack early on Wednesday morning.

After five days of national mourning he was given a state funeral and buried in the Kremlin in Red Square.

Leonid Brezhnev was succeeded by another Communist hardliner, Yuri Andropov, the former head of the secret police.

In March 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union.

He immediately began a policy of "glasnost" and "perestroika" - openness and restructuring.

Less than a decade later, in 1991, the Soviet Union was consigned to history when the Congress of People's Deputies voted for its dissolution.


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