Ramiz Alia, 85, who was Albania's last communist president and is credited with opening to democracy one of the world's most isolationist political systems, died Friday of lung complications, an Albanian official announced.
He assumed leadership of the Albanian
in 1985 after the death of his longtime friend, dictator
. After a series of massive student protests, Alia 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
won the new vote, electing its leader Sali Berisha as the new head of state.
In 1994, Alia was convicted of abuse of power and sentenced to nine years in prison but was released the next year on appeal. In 1996, he returned to jail while awaiting trial on charges of crimes against humanity, but escaped in 1997 with thousands of others when guards — furious after the collapse of pyramid investment schemes fueled by the savings of most Albanians — abandoned their posts as the country exploded into chaos.
The prosecutor general dropped genocide charges against Alia in 1997.
Times staff and wire reports