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Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev has replaced the veteran head of national oil company Socar — a long-awaited move that analysts say will help accelerate plans to restructure and eventually privatize the Caspian oil and gas producer. Rovnag Abdullayev was sacked without explanation at the end of last week and given a new job as deputy economy minister. He had headed Socar since 2005. Rovshan Najaf has been appointed as Socar's acting CEO. He comes from the same ministry and holds a master's degree from Columbia University in New York. Najaf has a reputation as a reformer and is expected to improve corporate governance at Socar. "He's a very smart guy, and knows what needs to be done to move the company forward," a longtime Azeri acquaintance says. Abdullayev, who had previously run the country's largest oil refinery, was not comfortable with Western business practices, the same source said. Socar — 100% owned by the government — is sometimes referred to as a "state within a state." It fulfills a variety of functions including oil and gas production, refining, marketing and negotiating contracts with Western oil companies. Last year, it produced around 150,000 b/d of oil and 7.9 Bcm of gas.

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