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President Aliyev of Azerbaijan Collapses During Speech - 2003-04-21

Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev collapsed twice during a speech broadcast live on state television Monday, but returned to the podium a third time to finish the speech in the end.

Azerbaijan's state television twice had to interrupt programming, as President Aliyev struggled to get through a highly attended speech at a military academy in Baku.

Twice, Mr. Aliyev came to the podium, and twice he suffered some sort of collapse that has yet to be officially explained. In a statement, the presidential press service said the incident was caused by a sudden fall in blood pressure.

Azerbaijani state television was broadcasting pictures of the audience applauding, when suddenly the group gasped. The next pictures seen showed bodyguards racing toward the president, but then the transmission was cut off.

Nearly 15 minutes later, the broadcast resumed with a frail-looking President Aliyev returning to the hall, amid a standing ovation.

Moments later he collapsed again.

After another brief break, President Aliyev returned for a third appearance, and this time quickly finished his remarks. He then left the room, waving to the audience.

Mr. Aliyev, who turns 80 next month, has a long history of medical problems, including heart trouble and bypass surgery. Just last month, he underwent a hernia operation in the United States.

Mr. Aliyev's health is closely watched, as he is reported to have no obvious successor, although critics say he is paving the way to turn over power to his son, eventually.

Azerbaijan's next presidential elections are slated for October, and President Aliyev has announced his intention to seek another term.