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Azerbaijan Report: December 16, 2003

16 December 2003
Former President Aliyev Dies In U.S. Hospital
Former Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev died on 12 December at the Cleveland Clinic, Ohio, in the United States, where he has been treated since the beginning of August. The authorities announced a week of mourning. On 21 April, Aliyev collapsed during a speech that was broadcast live on television. 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.

Aliyev was taken to the Gulhane Hospital in Ankara for what Azerbaijani officials said was a routine medical check-up. But on 6 August Aliyev was transferred to the Cleveland Clinic. "Heydar Aliyev is being treated for congestive heart failure and kidney problems," according to a medical bulletin released by the clinic on 8 August. The bulletin added that "Aliyev does not suffer from neurological problems and he is responding well to treatment." Aliyev underwent bypass surgery in Cleveland in April 1999. He also had prostate surgery last year and a hernia operation there in early 2003.(RFE/RL)

PACE Rapporteur Studies Plight Of Political Prisoners
"Azerbaijan is meeting its commitments to the Council of Europe," said President Ilham Aliyev during a meeting with Malcolm Bruce, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's (PACE) rapporteur on human rights and political prisoners. Aliyev called the cooperation with the Council of Europe "successful," adding that this cooperation will continue. Bruce's visit was aimed at studying the issue of political prisoners, a report on which will be heard at the PACE winter session next year. During his visit Bruce also met with representatives of nongovernmental organizations and people considered to be political prisoners. The main topic at the meetings with human rights activists was the issue of political prisoners and people arrested in the wake of the 15-16 October unrest in Baku. (Kebiran Dilaverli)

Geneva Meeting Could Promote Settlement Of Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict
In itself the rehabilitation of direct talks between the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents is a step forward in the peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, said President Ilham Aliyev, commenting on the results of his two-hour meeting with his Armenian counterpart Robert Kocharian in Geneva on 11 December. "The meeting was open and both sides expressed their own opinion," Aliyev said. The talks began with the participation of the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs and then continued tete-a-tete.

Aliyev was participating in the World Information Summit in Geneva. Speaking at the summit, Aliyev said that "the world unity must use all its authority to urge Armenia to withdraw its troops from occupied Azeri territories." The president recalled that the fact of the Armenian occupation has been reflected in four UN resolutions, statements by the OSCE Minsk Group, official documents of the Council of Europe and others, and is recognized by the international community.

Between 1999 and August 2002, former President Heydar Aliyev and Kocharian held some 20 private meetings. The most recent took place in August 2002 at the Azerbaijani-Armenian border. According to Mubariz Ahmedoglu, head of the Center for Political Innovations and Technologies, at present it is possible to expect a positive result from such personal talks, as the situation in the region is changing in favor of Azerbaijan.

Last week, the co-chairmen of the Minsk Group, who visited Baku, Yerevan, and Khankendi (Stepanakert), told the media that the group had urged the presidents to meet soon and discuss the new ideas for settling the conflict, which were proposed during their visits.

American co-chairman Rudolf Perina stated that during its long-running activities the Minsk Group has made numerous proposals. Therefore the group did not see a need to prepare a new packet of proposals; it simply edited and merged some previous ones. In other words, the co-chairmen sought to synthesize the "step-by-step" and "package" settlement versions. Armenia opposes the "step-by-step" settlement and Azerbaijan the "package" one. Meanwhile, after the latest meeting between the presidents, the Azerbaijani authorities have begun to hint at the need to prepare the population for a possible peaceful settlement plan.

Political scientist Eldar Namazov recalled that most political forces in Azerbaijan, except the government, have signed a charter based on three principles: the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan, the return of refugees to their homeland, and granting Nagorno-Karabakh autonomy within a sovereign Azerbaijan. According to Namazov, if the government intends to sign a peace treaty that deviates from these principles, the people are likely not to respond positively.

But Rauf Mirgadirov, a columnist for the newspaper "Ekho," disagreed and said that society plays a decisive role in this issue, noting that after the 15 October presidential elections the people's opportunities for protest are limited. According to him, signing a peace agreement mainly depends on possible pressure from abroad. If the co-chair countries are interested in a swift settlement of the conflict, unlike his father, President Ilham Aliyev will not put up much resistance. (Samira Gazieva, Rovshen Ganvarov, and Babek Bekir)

Government Rejects NGO Proposals
At the beginning of 2003, the government made certain changes to the Law on Grants, imposing taxes on foreign grants. It requires NGOs to pay 27 percent of their wage fund into the Social Protection Fund, while individual employees must pay 2 percent of their salary into a pension fund. Considering the dissatisfaction of local nongovernmental organizations and foreign donors, the authorities pledged to prepare a state assistance program for NGOs. But NGOs view the government's proposals contained in the draft program as unsuitable.

According to the National NGO Forum President Azai Guliev, there are numerous inappropriate points in the document. For example, the draft program rules out financing NGOs from the state budget. The government also disagrees with the suggestion to establish a National NGO Fund with the financial assistance of state structures and commercial and donor organizations.

Discussing the government's proposals at its recent meeting, the National NGO Forum suggested preparing a compromise draft that would suit both sides. Guliev pointed out that the chief goal now is to urge the authorities to accept this program, saying that the government must realize that without assistance from the state and donor organizations, local NGOs would face great difficulties in the future. The "third sector" is largely dependent on foreign donor organizations. (Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Is Azerbaijan The Internet's Friend?
In its recent report, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has ranked Azerbaijan in the fourth-worst group in terms of Internet development. The Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has already declared that Azerbaijan is "an enemy of the Internet." Osman Gunduzov, head of the Azerbaijani Internet Forum, suggested that it is possible to agree with the ITU opinion that Internet use is not satisfactory. But at the same time, he disagreed with the RSF assessment. According to Gunduzov, the government together with the United Nations is now implementing a program to develop national information communication technologies. As a result, rural areas will also gain access to the Internet. Nevertheless, Gunduzov acknowledged that in comparison with most countries, the Internet in Azerbaijan is developing more slowly due to the state monopoly in the telecommunications sector. But unlike such countries as Iran, China, and Turkmenistan, there is no ideological and political supervision over access to the web. Gunduzov also noted that the tariffs for connecting to the Internet through service providers fall short of international standards. (Shahnaz Beilergizi)

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)