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Albania's last communist leader Ramiz Alia dies

FILE - In this March 30, 1991 file photo, Albanian President Ramiz Alia, attends a press conference in Tirana, Albania. Albania's last communist president Ramiz Alia died in the Balkan country's capital Tirana on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. He was 85. FILE - In this March 30, 1991 file photo, Albanian President Ramiz Alia, attends a press conference in Tirana, Albania. Albania's last communist president Ramiz Alia died in the Balkan country's capital Tirana on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. He was 85. (AP Photo/Giulio Broglio, File)
October 7, 2011

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TIRANA, Albania—Albania's last communist president Ramiz Alia -- credited with opening one of the world's most isolationist political systems to democracy -- has died. He was 85.

Mimoza Kociu, a spokeswoman for president Bamir Topi, said Alia died at about 7 a.m. (0500 GMT) of lung complications.

Alia assumed leadership of the communist party in 1985 following the death of his longtime friend, dictator Enver Hoxha. Following a series of massive student protests, he introduced political and economic reforms that paved the way for the country's first free elections in 1991.

Alia was elected president, but resigned a year later after the collapse of the coalition government. The newly created Democratic Party won the new vote, electing its leader Sali Berisha the new head of state.

In 1994 Alia was convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to nine years in prison. He was released in 1995 following an appeal court ruling.

In 1996 he was returned to jail while awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity, but escaped in 1997 with thousands others when guards -- furious after pyramid investment schemes fueled by the savings of most Albanians collapsed -- abandoned their posts as the country exploded into chaos.

In October 1997 the prosecutor general also dropped genocide charges against him.

He is survived by two daughters and a son.

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