Ailing Azeri Leader Eyes Another Term

BAKU (Reuters)–Ailing Azeri President Haydar Aliyev–who has single-handedly ruled this oil-rich Caspian nation for a decade–said on Wednesday he would run for another five years in office next year.

Aliyev–79–has ruled post-Soviet Azerbaijan with an iron fist since 1993–squashing opposition and sealing a raft of multi-billion-dollar deals with Western companies to develop the country’s Caspian Sea oil deposits.

Aliyev has looked increasingly frail since undergoing heart surgery in the United States in 1999–and concerns about his health have sparked speculation about who could replace him.

But the veteran leader–referred to as "Baba" (grandfather) by many of his countrymen–expressed confidence that he would win re-election.

"The ruling party and the people of Azerbaijan have asked me to stand for presidential office in 2003. I have accepted the offer and will run. I am sure the people will again put their trust in me," Aliyev said in televised remarks.

He dismissed suggestions the vote would be rigged–telling the parliament of his native remote Nakhchivan region: "Such a well-known politician as myself does not need falsification to come to power."

Azerbaijan’s ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party has said its deputy president – Aliyev’s son Ilgam–would run for president in 2008.

The Azeri opposition says the "Aliyev clan" has exhausted its usefulness and should go.

It blames Aliyev–who first came to power as Communist Party boss under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev–for his failure to lift low living standards and resolve the problem of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Intermittent peace negotiations since 1994 but have failed to find in a solution.

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