Turkey's worldly wise man dies

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TURKEY'S PRESIDENT, Turgut Ozal, died of heart failure yesterday, ending a decade in which his dominating presence led the country through a period of remarkable change. He was 66.

Never shy of singing his own praises, Mr Ozal compared his rule to a 'second revolution', modernising the republic that Kemal Ataturk built on the ruins of the Ottoman Empire 70 years ago.

While criticised for his closeness to the military and the zig- zagging opportunism of some of his policies, as well as the sudden rise to wealth of his family, Mr Ozal can take much of the credit for breaking down taboos that made Turkey one of the world's most inward-looking states.

When he first came to power, it was a crime to possess a dollar bill. Now half the country's bank accounts are in foreign currency. It took half an hour for a telex to come on line, but computer packet-switching networks now link every corner of the country.

President Ozal thrust Turkey into world consciousness during the Gulf war. He also pushed the country into a bewildering array of foreign policy initiatives, applying to join the European Community, intervening in northern Iraq and trying to link the newly independent Turkic Muslim republics of the former Soviet Union. He had just returned from a 12-day tour of Central Asia and Azerbaijan when he collapsed on Saturday morning.

Mr Ozal had undergone triple- bypass heart surgery in 1987, survived an assassination attempt in 1988 and had a cancerous prostate removed last year. Doctors tried to insert a pacemaker yesterday, but he died in the early afternoon.

All eyes now are on Prime Minister Suleyman Demirel, who must choose whether to stand as president, after the demise of his one-time protege, who had become his most bitter rival for Turkey's dominant right-wing vote.

(Photograph omitted)