BISHKEK, Kyrgyzstan (AP) – Absamat Masaliyev, former leader of Kyrgyzstan who headed the Central Asian nation’s Communist Party both before and after the Soviet collapse, has died, the government said Sunday. He was 71.

Masaliyev died Saturday from a heart attack, the government said.

In 1985, he became the first secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party in Kyrgyzstan after changes in the Soviet Communist leadership that saw Mikhail Gorbachev take power in Moscow.

He remained in office until 1990 when he lost elections in the country’s first-ever presidential elections, as the Soviet republics sought to assert their sovereignty in moves that led the next year to the disintegration of the Soviet Union. The election was won by Askar Akayev, who remains president of independent Kyrgyzstan.

After the election loss, Masaliyev took control of the surviving Communist Party, and in 1995 he won a seat in the upper chamber of parliament representing his southern home region of Osh.

Later that year, Masaliyev challenged Akayev unsuccessfully again, but drew strong support in the south. In 2000, he won a lower parliament seat and held that post until his death.

Absamat Masaliyevich Masaliyev was born in 1933 in southern Kyrgyzstan in the village of Alysh.

In 1953, he began studies at the Kyrgyz Mining Technical School in southern Kyrgyzstan, and continued in 1956 at Moscow Mining Institute where he earned a degree in mine engineering.

He started his career as a deputy chief engineer at Kyzyl-Kiya mine in southern Kyrgyzstan. In 1961, he became an instructor at the Osh regional branch of the Communist Party and worked his way up the ranks.

Masaliyev is survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, one of whom is a lawmaker in the upper chamber of the parliament.

A state funeral for Masaliyev is to be held Tuesday.

AP-ES-08-01-04 1020EDT

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