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Azerbaijan Report: May 6, 2003


6 May 2003
NEWS BRIEFS
President Aliyev Flies To Turkey For Cardiac Exam
On 3 May at 10 p.m. local time, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev set off for Turkey to undergo a medical examination at Gulhane Military Medical Academy.

The local private television station ANS, citing the president's security service, reported that the president's plane landed at Esenboga airport at 12:40 a.m. Immediately after arriving, the 80-year-old president checked into the medical academy's cardiology department.

Although officials said that the president would be back in two days, the date of his return remains uncertain.

According to official sources, Aliev's medical examination is linked to the expected heavy work-schedule in connection with his 80th birthday on 10 May, when he is to receive numerous foreign high-ranking officials.

On 21 April, Aliyev collapsed twice during a speech at a ceremony devoted to the 30th anniversary of the Jamshid Nakhichevanski Military Academy. Later, the presidential press service stated that "the president lost his balance as a result of a severe drop in blood pressure, which stabilized after a few minutes."

But on 28 April the president's son, Ilham, told local media that the president cracked the sixth rib on his left side as a result of the collapse, and he would need four or five weeks for a complete recovery. (Natig Zeinalli)

Two Parties Protest, Call for President's Resignation
On 4 May two opposition parties, Musavat and the Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP), held a protest demanding President Aliev's resignation.

Although most parties united for the protest, the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM) refused to participate. The municipal executive committee requested the opposition to postpone such activities, citing the upcoming birthday of the president and coinciding visits from foreign dignitaries. However, it did in the end sanction the protest and despite the fact that only two opposition parties participated, the turnout for the rally was as large as in previous ones, with some 10,000 or so marchers, an RFE/RL correspondent reported.

The demonstrators marched from the 20 January metro station to Galaba Square, where they held a mass meeting.

Khalid Alimirzaev, head of the Amal Intelligentsia Movement, was one of the first to speak. He said that the Azerbaijani people are "struggling along a difficult but glorious path. The democratic forces' will triumph in the end. This way is certain." Alimirzaev also noted that all groups within the population are obliged to take their places in this struggle.

Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar also spoke during the rally: "Today is a day of popular unity," he said. "Now, no one has the right to deceive the people and dash their hopes." Gambar pointed out that at present the government is "in shock and afraid" and it is advising the president to resign, which he adds is in the best interests of both Aliyev and the people. (Babek Bekir)

Opposition Magazine Editor Charges Police With Harassment
Police on 2 May temporarily halted distribution of the new Russian-language edition of the country's most popular paper, charging the publisher with incomplete registration.

Mustafa Hajili, editor in chief of the weekly magazine "Yeni Musavat," told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that law-enforcement bodies entered the private Visa-Media publishing house and told workers there that the magazine of the opposition Musavat party was unregistered under a corresponding agreement with the publishing house. Police also forbid the magazine's two technical workers from leaving the publishing house, Hajili said. He added that the "police lawlessness" went on until the afternoon.

Hajili vehemently denied the police charges, adding that all necessary documents had been submitted to the Justice Ministry and registration is not needed. RFE/RL's Baku bureau reported that according to existing laws, registration is no longer needed with the ministry.

Hajili said that the police interference was linked to the magazine's popularity. What troubles the government is that the opposition could gain the support of Russian-language citizens' sympathy by publishing the magazine, he claimed.

Ministry of Internal Affairs' spokesman Ehsan Zahidov denied Hajili's allegations. He noted that he is unaware of any police action against the magazine.

The Editors' Union called for authorities to bring to trial the police officers that are alleged to have exerted pressure on the magazine and its employees or the government will have to assume responsibility for the incident, it said. (Babek Bekir)

Intellectuals Backpedal On Statement Against President
On 23 April, 123 intellectuals representing the Amal Intelligentsia Movement issued a statement calling for President Aliev's resignation.

Following the statement, official mass media began a campaign against the intellectuals. In official newspapers, a number of literary and cultural workers protested against the intelligentsia movement's statement.

Professor Khalid Alimirzaev, head of the movement, was called to the public prosecutor's office because of the statement and had to defend charges that he had forged the names of 14 teachers at Baku State University (BSU).

But in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, Alimirzaev said that these intellectuals did put their signatures at the bottom of the text. As for the teachers' renunciation of having done that, he suggested that the university's leadership had frightened them by threatening them with dismissal.

He added that these actions were not out of the ordinary given the situation and the fact that they are dependent on wages from the university.

Meanwhile, the university's leadership considered sacking Alimirzaev, also a teacher at BSU. Alimirzaev called the university's campaign against him "baseless."

The parliament also criticized Alimirzaev. Siyavush Novruzov, a deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), even charged him with bribery.

The Amal Intelligentsia Movement issued a statement on this matter: "For the benefit of those slandering us, we again note that the movement's statement was not timed in relation to the president's health condition. To do so would be in contradiction of ethical and moral values. We realize this even better than those who accuse the movement's members of disrespecting these values.

"The movement's statement was prepared long before, but its presentation accidentally coincided with the known incident with the president. We wish every citizen of our country, including Aliev, quick recovery and health.... We state again that the current regime, which is alien to the people and contrary to independence, must collapse..." the statement said. (Almaz Mahmudgizi)

NDI Calls On Government To Assure Fair Creation of Election Commission
The U.S.-based National Democratic Institute (NDI) has called for the Azerbaijani government to look more carefully at the draft unified election code, or risk charges of fraud during the fall presidential elections.

In a statement issued last week, the NDI said that the government should be especially attentive as to how the Central Election Commission (CEC) is formed.

"At present the important issue in Azerbaijan is the creation of the Central Election Commission," the statement read. "The creation of such a commission, which could win political opponents' and the public's confidence, has failed because of gaps in the law, as well as of the breakdown in the political dialogue. The permanent failure in this matter could result in the society's distrust of the elections' transparency and of political opponents."

The statement says that past experience with previous elections in Azerbaijan prove that transparency must be assured regarding the activities of all the commission members in order to gain the public's confidence. Such transparency will also guarantee members' political neutrality and administrative efficiency.

"In countries such as Azerbaijan, a method to form the commission must be chosen that ensures a wide spectrum of consent among political parties where each commission member is concerned."

The NDI statement emphasizes the importance of a political dialogue in achieving a political agreement.

Local lawyer Fuad Agaev, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service, agreed that the chief problem in the election code is linked with the formation of election commissions and expressed hope that the opposition's suggestions to the draft law would also be accepted. (Zhale Mutallimova)

Press Freedoms Cost, Says Media Expert
Concurrent with World Press Freedoms Day on 5 May, the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders has published its 2002 report on press freedom violations in 156 countries.

The report's chapter on Azerbaijan states that although the Azerbaijani government has undertaken obligations before the Council of Europe, the courts' independent activities have yet to be organized and said this results in government pressure on independent media.

The report says that some amendments were made in legislation that restricted journalists' rights.

Newspapers such as "Azadliq," "Yeni Musavat" and "Milletin Sesi," as well as their employees, were exposed to pressure. Under the court rulings the newspapers were fined more than 100,000 euros ($112,000).

Arif Aliev, chairman of the New Generation Journalists Union, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that in 2002 there were some successes along with problems. "A press council was created, a law on public television was passed at the parliament on the second reading," Aliyev said.

He added that while adoption of such laws is a positive event, the delays in their implementation prevent the development of Azerbaijani journalism. Moreover, the media are not developing economically.

"A decree on allocating credits to the mass media has been signed. But in fact these loans are given to one or two newspapers."

Aliyev also touched on the issue of politicalization in the local media. "Economic difficulties deprive the media of being independent because independence is very expensive," he said. "This is the chief factor complicating assurance of the media's independence in the current crisis situation." (Zhale Mutallimova)

PRESS REVIEW
The topic headlining Azerbaijani newspapers these days is the health of President Aliev, who is undergoing a medical examination in Turkey's Gulhane Medical Academy.

The independent and opposition media outlets' articles on the president's health have been met with displeasure on behalf of government representatives and supporters.

The opposition newspaper "Azadliq" writes that since the weekend the security at strategic state offices has been strengthened. Interior Ministry troops and special security services have been given orders to prevent possible "confusion."

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" points out that Azerbaijani Prime Minister Artur Rasizade, who is still in the United States after reportedly undergoing eye surgery, will return to Azerbaijan soon. According to the constitution, should the president be unable to fulfill his duties, it is the prime minister who would assume his post.

President Aliyev will be 80 on 10 May. Governmental and pro-governmental newspapers ran articles and commentaries narrating about the head of state's life and activities.

Under the headline "A Leader, Who is Always on Top of Things," the government newspaper "Khalq" writes that the critical stage in Aliev's climb to the top of his power was his oil strategy and diplomacy.

Under the headline "BTC Opponents are Gathering in Baku," the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that well known nongovernmental organizations that oppose the pipeline's construction will hold a protest.

In the article "Baku Does Not Intend to Accept Iran's Suggestion," the independent newspaper "525" cites Novruz Memmedov, head of the department on foreign relations within the Presidential Administration, as saying that Azerbaijan does not plan to join a regional security system built under the "3+3" formula (Russia-Iran-Turkey and Azerbaijan-Georgia-Armenia).

Under the headline "Financial Markets are Passing into Foreigners' Control," the independent newspaper "Khalq Jebhesi" writes that international financial institutions again demand to increase foreign banks' participatory share in Azerbaijani bank capital.

Newspapers ran various articles about the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Azerbaijan. Although official sources deny it, unofficial sources claim that there are a number of people infected with the SARS virus in Azerbaijan.

Ali Sadigov, a teacher at the Technical University, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" that all laws adopted in Azerbaijan meet European standards. But the implementation of these laws is poor, he said.

Rashid Hajili, head of the Media Law Institute, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" that recent attacks against media outlets and representatives have taken various forms. Previously, the press was exposed to pressure through courts and problems in registration, but today even the police and the office of the public prosecutor are interfering in the process. As for information regarding the president's health, Hajili noted that such information -- as well as other high-ranking officials' health conditions -- must be available to the population. Because this is one of the requirements of the law in a democratic society. "We must be aware of the health condition of those who rule us. But if the matter concerns the Azerbaijani president, this person is also old, and therefore his health troubles us. Moreover, the country has numerous problems, there is the possibility of instability.... All this gives reason for each citizen to get detailed, exact, and timely information about the head of state's health by benefiting from the right that the constitution provides for him."

Sabine Evezgizi, in an article titled "For Whom is Chaos Favorable?" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," notes that recent successive violations against the press, political opposition, and human rights organizations point to the existence of certain forces that are interested in creating tension in Baku. Evezgizi also talks about the 4 May attack on the editorial office of her newspaper and writes that the government, which has lost its hopes for the elections and democratic methods of struggle, resorts to destructive actions to prolong its life. It is in the government's interests to create chaos and confrontation in the country. And it will realize its intentions by means "peculiar to its nature." Evezgizi writes that although the government plans to declare a state of emergency, the chance to realize it, in fact, is too limited. But as "we have seen so many surprises from Aliev's government, should it declare a state of emergency tomorrow, it will likely not be unexpected for us." Nevertheless, experts note that there is no need to declare a state of emergency. The introduction of a state of emergency in the current situation would be an illegal action, Evezgivi said.

Agil Abbas, editor in chief of the "Adalat" newspaper, said in an interview with the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" that all conditions have been created for freedom of speech in Azerbaijan. Everybody writes what he wants, he said. But articles that insult the president's honor and dignity must be prevented, he opines. Of course, the president can bring legal action against newspapers that run such articles but the president is merely not interested in doing so. The president does not assume a severe attitude toward biased articles. But he has enough opportunities to impose fines on these newspapers and even to close them.

An author writing only as Goyuturk in the article "Opponents of the BTC Liven Up," in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," writes that ecological organizations have recently stated openly that they will use all means to prevent the construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main export oil pipeline. Goyuturk notes that although pipes for the pipeline have been brought to Baku, construction has yet to begin. Some specialists say a decision on the pipeline's construction will be clear after a common meeting of the contractors scheduled for the end of the month. Azerbaijani officials are also optimistic that the BTC's construction will start in the near future. But Azerbaijan still cannot find $320 million needed for financing its share of the construction. The International Monetary Fund has seriously objected to the government's offer to finance this share from the State Oil Fund. In such a situation Azerbaijani officials consider an address to international financial organizations as the best way out. The Ministry of Economic Development, national bank, and Ministry of Finance are expected to visit the United States in the middle of the month to try to secure loans.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)

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