Azeris mourn former president

Hundreds of thousands of mourners in Azerbaijan have paid their last respects to former President Haider Aliyev, who died last week in a US clinic.

    Many Azeris credit Aliyev with creating social stability

    Aliyev, who died of heart failure on Friday, dominated Azerbaijan politics for three decades. He was 80 years old.

    His son, Ilham, dubiously elected president in October, headed a procession on Monday 

    along streets lined with red carnations

    .

    The coffin, draped in the green, red and blue flag of the

    Caspian Sea state, was borne on the

    two-hour journey by a gun carriage. Thousands of people had

    earlier filed past the coffin as it lay in a concert hall.

    "Who will take care of us now?" said Fatakh Usifzade, 56, as

    he passed into the cemetery, where Aliyev was laid next to his

    wife Zarifa in the Avenue of Honour. "Azerbaijan will never

    again have such a president."

    Distraught

    Soldiers and police eased the passage of mourners into the

    cemetery, clearly too small to hold them all.

    Haider Aliyev was condemned for
    human rights abuses

    Five cannon shots

    sounded over the grave and long lines of distraught Azeris filed

    into the grounds late into the evening.

    Ilham had earlier greeted mourners in the concert hall,

    where the coffin of his father

    lay.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin was the most high-profile foreign dignitary at the funeral. 

    But heading the US delegation was Elizabeth Jones, the Assistant Secretary of

    State for European and Eurasian Affairs -

    reflecting Washington's good relations with the country.

    Putin's tribute

    "Azerbaijan was lucky that he was the head of this state...

    I am sure that the memory of him will not only be preserved in

    Azerbaijan but also in the whole post-Soviet area," Putin said

    .

    Ilham Aliyev was accused of
    stealing the presidential election

    The only regional leader not in attendance was President

    Robert Kocharyan of Armenia. The two states remain locked in a

    dispute over the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, where a truce

    was declared in 1994 after six years of war left 35,000 dead.

    Aliyev, who

    led the Azerbaijan

    through nearly all of its period of independence, handed

    power to his son earlier this year.

    He is widely credited with successfully expoliting his country's oil wealth and creating social stabilty.

    Human rights

    But his detractors said he had scant regard for human rights and ruled his country with an iron fist.

    They have also accused his son of effectively stealing last October's presidential elections, which were widely condemned by international observers.

    Analysts have raised question marks over Ilham Aliyev's

    long-term prospects and suggested he lacks his father's mettle

    .

    But Aliyev junior has in effect been running the country for

    several months and, however inexperienced, analysts say he is

    safe for now.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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