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Ilham Aliyev

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Updated: 28.10.2003

President of Azerbaijan, born 1961.

Ilham Aliyev took over as president from his father, Heydar, following elections in October 2003. Heydar Aliyev had been a candidate for re-election but deteriorating health led him to pull out of the race just a couple of weeks before the vote in favour of his son whom he described as his "political successor". Mr Aliyev, former prime minister of Azerbaijan, had polled 79.5% of the vote - giving him an outright win in one round.

Heydar Aliyev had been grooming Ilham for the top job for some time. He was already vice chairman of the state oil company, his father's deputy as leader of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, Azerbaijan's representative to the Council of Europe and president of the Olympic Committee. In the summer before the elections and to the dismay of the opposition, parliament approved the president's request that Ilham be appointed prime minister.

Still, what everyone in Azerbaijan remembers about the younger Aliyev is his reputed fondness for high living and the roulette table. Back in 1998 Aliyev senior abruptly ordered all casinos in Azerbaijan to be closed, as reports circulated that Ilham Aliyev was massively in debt to a shady Turkish gambling magnate.

Ilham Aliyev went on to win the presidency by a landslide. Western observers were highly critical of the campaign which they said had been marred by voter intimidation, violence and media bias. The opposition pledged to challenge the result. Protest demonstrations by their supporters were met with police violence. Many opposition supporters were arrested.

Some observers doubt that he has the strength to fill his father's political shoes and many suspect that, as long as his health permits, Heydar Aliyev will remain the power behind the throne. The intelligence company Stratfor.com, which is reported to have links to the CIA, put it another way: "Ilham Aliyev lacks his father's charisma, political skills, contacts, experience, stature, intelligence and authority. Aside from that he will make a wonderful president."

Analysts are divided on how long he will last as president. Some see him as a transitional figure who will ensure a smooth succession, before handing over at some point in the future to another member of the ruling clan. For now it is unclear whether Ilham Aliyev will run the clan, or whether it will run him. Whatever happens, he has enough money to live in comfort abroad, and may well prefer that to the stresses and strains of political leadership.

Ilham Aliyev graduated from Moscow's prestigious State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO) in 1982, the year his father joined the Soviet politburo, and later gained a PhD in history. His first ambition, reportedly, was to become a Soviet diplomat, but the USSR collapsed before he could realise it.

His business interests have enabled him to build substantial personal wealth since independence and he is married with three children. He is plump, suavely dressed, speaks fluent English and has a ready smile.

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