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Azerbaijan Report: January 13, 2004

13 January 2004
Ambivalent Attitude to the Georgian Presidential Election in Azerbaijan
While the Azeri government does not appear enthusiastic about former President Eduard Shevardnadze's sudden departure from the Georgian political scene, the opposition camp suggests that the latest events in neighboring Georgia will leave a certain imprint on the region. Isakhan Ashurov of the opposition Musavat party noted that at present every political figure, even ordinary citizens draw the comparison and ask why the opposition won the elections in Georgia, but lost in Azerbaijan. Ashurov did not rule out that events in Georgia would have a certain impact on the region, mainly on Azerbaijan.

Zafar Guliev of Turan news agency agreed that the events in Georgia must affect the region. But he added that everything in Azerbaijan and Armenia depends anyway on internal processes.

According to Khaleddin Ibrahimli, head of the Caucasus Research Center, the Azeri government's reaction to the processes in Georgia creates the impression that they are not comfortable with Shevardnadze's replacement by a new team. Ibrahimli suggested that Baku must rid itself of old stereotypes like "there can be no better friend for Azerbaijan than Shevardnadze and nobody can substitute for him." Azerbaijan must seek to establish warm relations with Georgia's future new government. It is doomed to do this, in fact. Ibrahimli pointed out that along with Azerbaijan and Georgia, foreign countries are also interested in the improvement of relations between the two countries. And outside interests will most likely stimulate this rapprochement.

But Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev noted that any "jealousy" is out of the question, as the elections in Georgia are the internal affair of that country. And the Azerbaijani people respects the Georgians' choice. Azerbaijan is interested in establishing normal ties with Georgia. Guliev recalled that he had a meeting with acting Georgian President Nino Burjanadze in December. Moreover, both Burjanadze and President-elect Mikheil Saakashvili attended the funeral of ex-President Heidar Aliyev. All this proves that the Azerbaijani government has established adequate relations with Georgia's leadership even before the presidential election was held and this relationship will be continued.

As for the new Georgian government's attitude to Azerbaijan, expert Ibrahimli said that President-elect Saakashvili is a democrat and has come to power as a supporter of democratic reforms. According to him, Saakashvili will take a different path from his predecessor Shevardnadze. The Georgian government well recognizes the importance of relations with Baku. The Azerbaijani community in Georgia, as well as the region's geopolitical significance, bring these countries together. Saakashvili, who acknowledges these factors, will seek to continue the previous policy and further strengthen ties with Azerbaijan.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

PACE Hearing on Azerbaijan's Commitments
The Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) discussed in Paris on 7 January the fulfillment of commitments undertaken by Azerbaijan during its accession to the Council of Europe in 2001. Reports of the discussions will be included in the report and draft resolution that will be submitted for debate at the PACE winter session. The Council of Europe is expected to conduct hearings on how Azerbaijan has fulfilled its obligations before the Council.

Samad Seidov, head of the Azeri delegation to the PACE hearing in Paris, told RFE/RL that President Ilham Aliyev's decree on pardoning 160 prisoners was welcomed at the hearing and that the remaining problems are related to human rights issues rather than political prisoners. Meanwhile, the opposition accuses the Azerbaijani government of ignoring these commitments. The government seems to deceive the Council of Europe rather than to implement its obligations before this institution, according to local opposition parries and some non-governmental organizations.

During round table discussions last week, parliament deputy Gulamhusein Alibeyli, who is deputy chairman of the People's Front Party (AXCP), acknowledged that certain work has been done in the field of the internal legislation, human rights and basic freedoms. As an example he referred to the adoption of the law on the ombudsman, a new criminal procedural code, and measures to grant citizens the right to appeal to the Constitutional Court. But at the same time, a number of obligations have been only partially fulfilled, especially those related to the issue of political prisoners and the law on public television. According to Alibeyli, despite a number of pardon decrees in recent years, the issue of political prisoners has yet to be solved. As the newly adopted law on public television proves, the government has preserved its powers of supervision over this institution. The recommendations of the opposition and international organizations were not taken into consideration during adoption of the election code, or during the formation of election commissions, Alibeyli said. Moreover, there are numerous serious problems with freedom of assembly.

Jamil Hasanli, another AXCP parliament deputy, pointed to some shortcomings in the law on corruption. This law does not serve as a basis for the struggle against corruption, he said.

(Babek Bekir)

NGOs Are Anxious about the Mechanism of Implementation of the New Law
Though the new law on state registration of legal entities is more advanced than the previous one, it provides opportunities for bureaucratic abuse, according to some local non-governmental organizations. The law adopted last December simplifies the procedure of registering NGOs. Nevertheless, a number of NGOs have pointed out some defects in the new code. The main problem is the mechanism for implementing the law.

According Ali Guliev, chairman of the NGO Congress, monitoring conducted by his organization following the adoption of the law has revealed over a thousand unregistered NGOs. But the country's parliament considers local NGOs' concern to be baseless. Parliament deputy Aidin Mirzazade suggested that the adoption of the new law proves that the government is interested in creating favorable conditions for NGOs. He recalled that the old code provided grounds for procrastination, and the purpose of adopting a new law was to eliminate such bureaucratic hassles. Mirzazade did not rule out the existence of certain shortcomings in the law. But if problems remain after the law comes into force, the parliament is prepared to remove them, he said.

(Babek Bekir)