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Kyrgyz writer, perestroika ally Aitmatov dies

Kyrgyz author Chinghiz Aitmatov attends a news conference at the opening of the Moscow International Book Fair "non/fiction" in Moscow's Central House of Artists November 29, 2006. Aitmatov presented his new book "When the Mountains fall (The Eternal Bride)". REUTERS/Thomas Peter

BISHKEK (Reuters) - Kyrgyz writer Chinghiz Aitmatov, an intellectual who helped bring about Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika, died in Germany on Tuesday at the age of 79, the Kyrgyz president’s office said.

Born in a tiny Kyrgyz village in 1928, he won a number of literary awards during the Soviet era and also became a senior Soviet and Kyrgyz diplomat.

Among his best known works were “Jamilia” and “The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years.” His novels often interwove popular myths and folktales to create allegorical themes populated with down-to-earth characters.

Aitmatov’s father was a victim of one of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin’s purges. He was executed in 1938 as an “enemy of the people” after being found guilty of “bourgeois nationalism.”

Aitmatov embraced Gorbachev’s “perestroika” campaign of openness and new political thinking launched in the mid-1980s. In the dying days of the Soviet Union Gorbachev appointed Aitmatov Soviet ambassador to Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg.

After the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, Aitmatov served as Kyrgyzstan’s envoy to the Benelux, France, NATO and UNESCO.

The Ataturk Culture, Language and History High Agency of Turkey set up a special committee earlier this year to nominate Aitmatov, of Turkic descent, for the Nobel prize in literature.

His native Kyrgyzstan had declared 2008 “The Year of Aitmatov.”

Last month the writer was rushed to a German clinic with acute kidney failure.

Reporting by Olga Dzyubenko; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Matthew Jones