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Azerbaijan Report: May 27, 2003

27 May 2003
Police Arrest 40 After Failed Protest in Downtown Baku
Armed police forces blocked an attempt to hold an unsanctioned opposition demonstration on 25 May in central Baku.The organizers, the Azerbaijan Democratic Party, which backs U.S. resident Rasul Guliev for president, had originally planned to hold the protest in Galaba Square, the site of numerous earlier opposition marches, a statement issued by the party said. But the Baku City executive power would only issue a permit for 24 May. It did not provide any reason for the date change, the statement said.

The ADP leadership did not agree with this demand, as it felt that the city had no right to dictated the date of an opposition protest. Thus it decided to organize an unsanctioned protest in the Fuzuli Square--a large intersection of streets not far from the Foreign Ministry and National Dramatic Theater.

Police met an undetermined number of protesters armed with helmets, vests and truncheons blocking anyone from entering. Although there were no serious confrontations between the police and protesters, Elkhan Jeferli, from the party�s press office, told RFE/RL�s Azerbaijani service that police detained 41 activists. Eight out of them, including Namig Ehedzade, a member of the party�s Supreme Council, and Jeyhun Ismailov, the party�s youth secretary, were sentenced to 3-to-15 days of administrative arrest. The rest were released after receiving a verbal warning and a fine.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Journalists Protest Recent Moves Against Opposition Papers
Journalists from the opposition press, Turan news agency and local journalism groups picketed on 23 May in front of the Tax Department of Baku, protesting recent moves it said was government obstruction of the opposition press. Addressing the group of about 30 who gathered, Journalist Trade Union chairman Mushfig Alesgerli said that some governmental representatives have lately wanted to prevent journalists from writing. As this was impossible, they then decided to create difficulties in the distribution process. Alesgerli noted that after eliminating newsstands of privately owned media distribution firms, the authorities have now begun to persecute street vendors.

The identity of those who allegedly beat newspaper vendors in the first days, has yet to be established, Alesgerli said, adding that shortly afterward the head of the Baku Metropolitan, the Baku Executive Power and other high-ranking officials banned the selling of opposition newspapers claiming that the papers were spreading false information about the president�s health. Alesgerli called such moves a suppression of free media, adding that recently the Tax Ministry has also gotten involved, claiming that in addition to media distribution firms, individual newspaper sellers are also liable for taxes.

After demonstrating in front of the Tax Ministry, the journalists moved to City Hall, demanding that the city rescind its ban on street sellers and to put an end to its effort to spark a confrontation between the press and the executive power. Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition "Yeni Musavat" newspaper, said he believes that Baku Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov was behind the campaign to eliminate the selling of opposition newspapers. Arifoglu accused the mayor of "cleansing Baku of democracy," recalling that when Abutalibov assumed office, he began his "cleansing," first banning newsstands that belonged to the private distributor Gaya from selling in Baku.

Both pickets were sanctioned, and there were no clashes cbetween police and protesters. Next week the journalists plan to hold similar pickets in front of the Ministry of Health and the Milli Majlis (parliament) building as well. If this has no effect, then they will organize a nationwide protest of journalists.

Alesgerli pointed out that they are not going to content themselves with only protest actions. "Now we are calculating the amount of losses that the obstructions have inflicted on editorial staffs, and journalist organizations intend to demand the compensation of this damage," he said.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Iran Remains Rigid on Caspian Division
"If Iran does not acknowledge agreements regarding the Caspian Sea status, then we do not acknowledge its agreement with Russia signed during the Soviet period," said Azerbaijani Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov to the Assa Irada news agency, commenting on the statement of Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. According to the news agency, Kharrazi stated on 22 May that Iran does not acknowledge the agreements signed between some Caspian littoral states to determine the sea's legal status and he called them illegal. But Azimov said that in this case the agreements Iran signed in 1921 and 1940 with the Soviet Union are illegal, as they are not valid with an independent Russia.

Elkhan Mehdiev, head of the Center for Peace and Settlement of Conflicts, a local political think tank, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that Kharrazi's recent statement shows once again that Iran's previous position on the Caspian remains unchanged. Mehdiev noted that the rich oil fields in the south Caspian, which Iran and Azerbaijan each claim is theirs, are the reason for the problem

Former Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Tofig Zulfugarov explains Tehran's current stand with the struggle between reformists and conservatives within Iran. Nevertheless, Zulfugarov expressed hope that Iran and Turkmenistan will sign the trilateral agreement signed between the three Caspian littoral states--Russia, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, adding that this agreement better corresponds to international norms and laws.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Azerbaijani Football Back on the International Pitch
On 22 May the Executive Committee of the European football union UEFA lifted all sanctions imposed on Azerbaijan after the local football Union AFFA failed to hold its national championships, due to squabbling between clubs and AFFA's chairman, Fuad Musaev.

On 16 April the international football association FIFA banned the clubs and representative teams of Azerbaijan from taking part in international matches, whether friendly or competitive. FIFA's suspension letter stated that the suspension would be in place until local organizations and bodies fulfil the commitments they agreed to at a summit in Zurich last year, which gathered AFFA leaders and local clubs, as well as officials from the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism. The local clubs have apparently buried the hatchet and began the local championship on 17 May after a 400-day interruption.

In accordance with FIFA's recommendations, AFFA, the local clubs and the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism signed an agreement on mutual implementation of commitments. AFFA's secretary-general Chingiz Ismailov told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that local clubs have already renounced their suits against AFFA. Ogtai Zeinalov, who now faces serious problems in health, could possibly be released on bail or permanently, he said.

Ragif Abbasov, head of the press secretary of the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Tourism, said that the news regarding the lifting of sanctions had been met by them with pleasure as well. He urged that until now AFFA has perceived the government's care of football as interference. Once AFFA reconsiders its approach on the issue, the ministry is ready to render any assistance to football in Azerbaijan.

(Babek Bekir)

AIDS Infections Rise
According to the National Center for Struggle with AIDS, the number of HIV-positive people in Azerbaijan now amounts to 537. Twenty-two are foreigners and 515 are Azerbaijani citizens. Of those infected with HIV, 400 are male, 97 are female and 18 are unknown.

Nazim Amirov, the center's chairman, said at a 22 May press conference, that these figures do not reflect the real situation in the country. According to the approximate calculations of international experts, in fact, the number of HIV-infected people in Azerbaijan is 10-15 times more.

Amirov also noted that 11 people have died this year from complications arising from AIDS. Since 1988, when the illness was first diagnosed in Azerbaijan, 42 have died.

(Kebiran Dilaverli)

An author writing only as Nasimi in the article "Heydar Aliyev appeared again" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" points out that after falling twice at the Republican Palace on 21 April, it is impossible to find any reliable information about the president's condition. As known, the head of state has been even taken to Gulhane Military Medical Academy during this period. Although officials have repeatedly stated that Aliev's health was normal, videotapes about the president have not been aired, giving grounds to doubt such assertions. Attempts by the country's media to deliver the news about Aliyev to the public has been met by the ruling camp with serious discontent. But the true is that the health of the president is not normal. This fact revealed itself even during the president's short meetings with Iran's foreign minister, the Ukrainian ambassador, Turkish politicians and BP president John Brown. At all meetings Aliyev was not formally, which suggests that he does not come to work. Even officials note that he holds meetings at his residence. Nasimi writes that last week presidential administration official Novruz Memmedov charged opposition newspapers with spreading false information and emphasized that Aliyev will pay a visit to Saint Petersburg. But then it turned out that Aliyev would not be able to attend the celebrations devoted to the 300th anniversary of this city. The author notes that all heads of state have been invited, and the fact that Heydar Aliyev cannot participate at such an important event proves that his health is not satisfactory.

An author writing only as Garakhanli in the article "The U.S. will assist Azerbaijan within the framework of GUUAM as well" in the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" comments on the next summit of the GUUAM countries on foreign ministerial level held last week in Tbilisi. He notes that the GUUAM is also a useful form of cooperation in the direction of the settlement of economic problems faced by regional states. Touching on this factor Ukrainian Foreign Minister Anatoly Zlenko stated at the summit that "we must first of all solve economic issues and the transportation of energy resources. This an issue that is suitable for all sides," adding that Kiev is interested in construction of an Odessa-Brodi extension of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main oil pipeline. The author recalls that the issue of free economic zones is expected to be discussed at a presidential-level summit scheduled for June. It is supposed that the problem of military cooperation within the organization could also be actualized.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" cites Finance Minister Evez Akberov as saying that the government has allocated 5.5 billion manats ($1.1 million) from the state budget's reserve fund for citizens who have suffered damage during the recent flooding. Some 2.5 billion manats of this will be paid in the form of compensation. Alekberov noted that at the recent meeting of the Security Council this month, President Aliyev gave instructions to the prime minister in connection with the situation. Ahmed Oruj in an article entitled "Protest actions must be continued" in the independent newspaper "525" writes "although the continuation of opposition protests is essential, the opposition must also think about their form and terms. The weakest point regarding the protests is that they have been held at the same place and with the same political leaders. There is a need the change the venue and route." The author notes that modifying the opposition protests and attracting representatives from various population groups could inject life to the protests. Although the opposition demonstrations are a good way for political leaders to gain oratorical experience, the negatives are obvious. The appearance of persons who are devoid of energy, oratorical skills, intelligence and other essential qualities, does not conform to common and national goals.

An author writing only as Rasim in the article "Resignation becomes unavoidable" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that although much time has passed since the sudden worsening of President Aliev's health, he cannot yet return to normal activities, which is accompanied by increasing governmental pressures on democratic opposition camp and mass media. According to experts, the chief factor that creates conditions for all this, is that "Heydar Aliev's regime is directly based on a dictatorship." They also emphasize separately that the inability of the head of state to normally fulfil his constitutional duties fuels the struggle for power between the ruling clans, as well as escalates the situation within the country and reinforces the pressure of centrifugal officials on the democratic camp. Secondly, Azerbaijan's position on the international arena is gradually weakening. One way out, suggest the experts, is for Aliyev to resign immediately and the holding of presidential elections under the control of international institutions and with the participation of all candidates.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" recalls that the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) is going to hold its next congress in the middle of June. During the congress the party will announce its candidate for the presidential elections. According to some sources the president doesn't yet intend to name his successor. The newspaper also notes that some forces within the ruling elite want prime minister Artur Rasizade, whom many consider to be a weak figure, to abandon his post. They suppose that in this case they could take a more active part in the election campaign.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)