Azerbaijan's leader appoints wife to newly-created position of vice president

Azerbaijan's leader has appointed his wife as the first vice president of the ex-Soviet nation - the person next in line in the nation's power hierarchy.

Ilham Aliyev, 55, named Mehriban Aliyeva, 52, to the position created after a constitutional referendum in September.

Ms Aliyeva, who married her husband when she was 19, graduated from a medical university. She has served previously as a legislator and headed a charity.

The vice president takes over the country's leadership if the president is unable to perform their duties, according to the constitution.

It does not describe the first vice president's main duties, but it is expected they will include overseeing the Cabinet.

Mr Aliyev's critics say the September referendum, which also extended the presidential term from five to seven years, effectively cemented a dynastic rule.

In 2003, he succeeded his father, who ruled Azerbaijan first as the Communist Party boss and then as a post-Soviet president for nearly three decades.

Mr Aliyev and his wife have two daughters and a son.

He has firmly allied the energy-rich Shiite Muslim nation with the West, helping secure his country's energy and security interests and offset Russia's influence in the strategic Caspian Sea region.

At the same time, his government has long faced criticism in the West for alleged human rights abuses and suppression of dissent.

He has cast himself as a guarantor of stability, an image that has wide appeal in a country where painful memories remain of the turmoil that accompanied the 1991 break-up of the Soviet Union.

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