October 23, 2019 / 4:40 PM / 25 days ago

Azeri leader dismisses head of administration in deepening shake-up

BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan’s president dismissed the influential head of his presidential administration on Wednesday, part of a reshuffle since he criticized the pace of economic reforms in the oil- and gas- producing country.

FILE PHOTO: Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev at the opening of talks with Armenia in Geneva, Switzerland October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo

A presidential decree gave no reason for the removal of Ramiz Mehdiyev, who is 81 and had held the post since he was appointed in 1995 by President Ilham Aliyev’s father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev.

But Aliyev said last week he wanted to clear out members of his government who had reached a pensionable age, a move seen partly as intended to force out officials appointed during his father’s tenure.

In a separate decree, the president promoted former economy minister Shakhin Mustafayev to the role of deputy prime minister and named former tax minister Mikayil Jabbarov to replace him as economy minister.

They were the latest in a series of high-profile changes this month that included the appointment of 62-year-old economist Ali Asadov as prime minister on Oct. 8.

Despite its energy resources, the South Caucasus country on the Caspian Sea struggles with inflation and unemployment, and many of the 10 million population see little benefit from the oil and gas it produces.

Aliyev criticized the government last week for changing economic forecasts frequently and obstructing reforms, state media reported.

In rare open criticism of authorities as they seek to boost growth and improve the business environment, he said: “There is no alternative to reforms.

Some senior officials in the government “cast a shadow over the reforms,” he said.

Aliyev has held power since he was elected in October 2003, two months before the death of his father. He also won elections in 2008, 2013 and 2018, and two separate referendums scrapped a two-term presidential limit and extended the presidential term to seven years from five.

He appointed his wife Mehriban Aliyeva first vice president, the second most powerful post after the president, in 2017.

Western nations have courted Azerbaijan because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe, but various European bodies and rights groups have accused Aliyev of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges Baku denies.

Additional reporting and writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Timothy Heritage

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