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Azerbaijan Report: August 8, 2003

8 August 2003
Observers Differ on Ilham's Potential Strength
Newly appointed Prime Minister Ilham Aliev, the son of ailing President Heydar Aliev, has stated that he has no intention of making radical changes within the government. Political observers suggest that in the current unstable situation, he could not make any serious changes, even if he wanted to.

Caucasus Studies Center director Khaleddin Ibrahimli pointed out that changes in the direction of domestic social and political processes, as well as in the country's foreign policy could be expected after the presidential elections. In the runup to the elections, neighboring countries and international forces will not seriously protest against Ilham Aliev's appointment to the post of prime minister.

The opposition press also criticizes the Turkish leadership for concealing detailed information about the president's health condition and for its accomodatingattitude toward Ilham Aliyev assuming the prime minister's post. According to Ibrahimli, there are no grounds to condemn Turkey in this issue.

"I think that there is no serious reason to blame Turkey. Turkey builds its policy in accordance with the actual situation," he said.

Political observers anticipate that the new prime minister will make some populist steps to garner public support. Some have even predicted that Ilham Aliyev would make some moves on the Karabakh issue.

Elkhan Mehdiev, head of Center for Peace and Conflict Settlement, took more pessimistic stance. Mehdiev compared Azerbaijan with Syria, adding that while Ilham is prime minister, processes linked with the Karabakh problem could move against Azerbaijan.

"The late Hafiz Asad insisted on the release of the Golan Heights for 30 years," Mehdiev said. "The fact of the occupation of these territories was, at least, voiced orally during his period. But his son Bashar Asad has not been able to succeed in doing this."

Observers are not unanimous on the fate of Ilham Aliev's government either. While some suggest that he will retain power for a long time, others say that his government will be short-lived.

Ibrahimli noted that Ilham Aliev's chances of winning the upcoming presidential election are not as bad as predicted. Nevertheless, despite its weakness, the opposition is in a position to put obstacles in his way. In any case, Ilham will not be able remain in power without help.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Opposition Members Go on Hunger Strike to Protest 'Illegal' Appointment of Prime Minister
On 6 August parliament deputy Igbal Agazade, who is chairman of the opposition Umid Party, and other nine other party members began a hunger strike to protest Ilham Aliev's appointment as prime minister. At a press conference, Agazade said that they consider Ilham Aliev's appointment to be the establishment of a monarchy. Therefore, they are beginning hunger strike until the Constitution is respected and rule of law in the country is restored.

"Ilham Aliyev was appointed prime minister on behalf of President Aliyev without providing exact information about the president's health and whether he is capable of signing decrees or not," Agazade said. "We consider this move as a coup d'etat, the overthrow of the leadership from within and the restoration of monarchy in the country." Agazade pointed out that this hunger strike is open-ended. Others intend to continue until death.

On 7 August former prime minister Penah Huseinov, head of the People's Party, and Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," as well as prominent intellectuals Kamil Vali Narimanoglu and Murshud Memmedli also joined the hunger strike.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Azerbaijani newspapers continue running articles about the president's health condition, Ilham Aliev's appointment as prime minister, the latest situation in the opposition camp, as well as the economy.

In an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "525," parliament deputy Zahid Oruj of the Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, said that they consider Ilham Aliev's appointment to the post of prime minister as a strategic decision. "We estimate Ilham Aliev's election as prime minister as a strategic step. On all occasions our people see Ilham Aliyev as the country's future president." Oruj suggested that in the post of prime minister Ilham Aliyev would be of more benefit to the country. He will guarantee the continuation of Heydar Aliev's economic and political course. "In this respect, it would be better for those who want compare themselves with Ilham Aliyev to discard populist slogans and insulting propaganda and conduct a normal political struggle," he concluded.

Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" said that in order to retain power the ruling elite is taking steps that violate the country's Constitution and laws. And society is expressing its protest, the opposition displays its position in various forms. The government's brutal and illegal step in the course of this struggle could raise the level of discontent in the society. Gambar is sure that democratic forces will ultimately come out the victor in this struggle. He noted that the incumbent government tries to hold on to power and is prepared for everything to achieve this goal. But democratic forces want to prevent this scenario from taking place and prepare to come to power. "Our common position constitutes an opinion that the only way to come to power is by elections. Therefore, the parties are now preparing for the elections, taking appropriate measures, in short, approaching the decisive stage of the struggle."

Vugar Mesimoglu in the article "Unsuccessful war of misinformation" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" comments on the recent press reports about the head of state's health. The dissemination of unclear information about the president's health, referring to various foreign media outlets and Internet sites, of course, serves political parties' and other groups' interests, but not the interests of nationhood. Most of the country's population has no access to Internet resources; therefore, various forces that are interested in adding to the population's confusion are spreading misinformation, referring to foreign press outlets or Web-sites. According to the author, it is not a question of who writes the truth and who lies. Every citizen has the right to receive exact news about the head of state's health. The press is as responsible for ensuring rights as the governmental is. The guilt of the government, which cannot provide adequate information, and of the media, which evoke confusion in society by contradictory and sensational reports, are equal.

Baheddin Haziev in an article entitled "Godlessness" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" points out that the questions among the people regarding the head of state's state of health and his location persist. Governmental officials state that he has gone to the United States for an "examination and treatment." Haziev recalls that most people whom the president promoted during his first period in power in 1969-1982 later betrayed him. And the current situation gives the impression that the same thing is happening again. The author suggests that people within the government whom Aliyev have advanced to higher posts are now doing deals with his health as a bargaining chip.

Parliament deputy Bahar Muradova, who is deputy executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, said in an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that today the opposition camp is in a state of confusion. To date the opposition forces have made various statements and predictions about a number of matters. But today it turns out that none of these predictions have come true. She pointed out that Ilham Aliev's appointment as prime minister is an issue which the opposition has long discussed. And this is not accidental. The opposition realizes that Heydar Aliev's work was aimed at strengthening the country's independence and its reputation in the international arena, and this cannot be left incomplete. This work must be continued. The opposition knew that such an appointment would be made and has therefore tried to prevent it at any price.

Elkhan Gudretoglu in the article "Our debts are increasing" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that although a country such as Azerbaijan, possessing rich natural resources, businesslike people and serious economic potential, should not need to incur foreign debt, the reality is different. The country's foreign debt exceeds its annual budget. But there is another indicator of how serious the situation is. This is the increase of the country's foreign debt to 23 percent of the GDP, which is a dangerous figure. And the country's debt burden is increasing against the background of the current tense political situation and the uncertainty regarding the incumbent government's prospects. Moreover, the process of serving foreign debts has ceased. During the last three months, the country's foreign debts have increased from $1.4 billion to 1.5 billion. In other words, foreign debts have increased by $123 million. According to the author, the structure of foreign debts complicate the mechanism for repayment. 850 billion manats for foreign debts are planned to be repaid by the end of this year. 105 billion of this amount is to be paid by National Bank, but the remaining 745 billion manats will be paid by separate state institutions.

Orkhan Kerimov, president of the Economic Development Association, in an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" noted that it is wrong to link the delay in the decision by international financial institutions regarding the granting credits for financing the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) main oil export pipeline with ecological security issues. "Everybody knows that in the area of providing the ecological security the BTC is superior to all other similar projects around the world. This has been repeatedly stated by influential international experts and transnational corporations. On the other hand, at the time when the BTC was on the agenda, the International Financial Corporation and other financial organizations allocated billions of dollars for the financing an oil pipeline passing through Kenya's territory. But at that time the issue of ecological safety was not a matter of argument. The exaggeration of this matter with respect to the BTC, simply pursues the aim of concealing these organization' distrust in the country�s political government." The postponement of the financial decision until the 15 October presidential elections points to this. Kerimov suggests that the allocation of loans to finance the BTC will be the index of the U.S. and Europe's confidence to the country�s new political government.

Jasur Mammedov in the article "High social security, high salary, professional army" in the independent newspaper "Ayna" points out that the salaries of Azerbaijan's military personnel are expected to be raised as of the beginning of September. While officers' salaries are expected to rise by 50 percent and ensigns' by 75 percent, nothing is said about the salary of soldiers and sergeants. The author notes that the salaries of military personnel were last increased in September 2001. Mammedov writes that the salaries received by Azerbaijani soldiers are lower than in most other countries. Retired officers sometimes accuse the government of showing little concern for officers. The author emphasizes that since Azerbaijan is at war with neighboring Armenia, the military's current problems need to be solved on a timely basis. Diminishing attention to this sphere for whatever reason could damage the fighting efficiency of the country's armed forces.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)