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Azerbaijan Report: December 17, 2002

17 December 2002
Opposition Calls for Commission to Reconcile Election-Law Grievances

Three leading opposition parties met with a representative of OSCE's democracy watchdog office on 13 December and asked that a commission be created representing both the government and opposition that would be better able to come to an agreement on the draft unified election law.

Members of the Opposition Coordinating Center -- a grouping of three of the largest opposition parties plus the "reformist wing" of a fourth -- told Nikolai Vulchanov, the OSCE representative for the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), that a reconciliatory commission was the opposition's condition for participation in the discussion process on the draft election law.

The opposition had earlier stated that it would not participate in the 16-17 December roundtable talks, co-sponsored by ODIHR and the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe, unless some conditions were met that they said would increase the effectiveness and transparency of the meetings.

At a 14 December meeting the parties united under the Opposition Coordinating Center once again stated their position.

According to the opposition, a reconciliatory council must be formed with equal participation of government and opposition representatives. The commission must be empowered to reconsider the articles of the draft law that are in conflict with the country's constitution and international law. If this term is fulfilled, the opposition will have no reason not to take part in discussions, the parties noted. But implementation of the terms depends more on the position of the government than on OSCE. During the meeting with the opposition Vulchanov did not hide that fact.

Aidin Mirzazade, a deputy from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), called the opposition's statement an ultimatum to the government and international organizations. Mirzazade told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the OSCE-sponsored roundtable meetings provide a public service, but the opposition must not forget that only the parliament has the right to make amendments to the draft election law. Therefore, it is meaningless to grant such discussions wide powers.

(Babek Bekir)

BP to Increase Operating Expenditures for 2003
BP plans to increase its operating expenditures and oil production for 2003, BP Azerbaijan President David Woodward said at a 13 December press conference on the results of 2002.

Next year BP and its partners plan to invest $4.3 billion in Azerbaijan's oil industry, Woodward said, adding that since 1997 BP and its partners have extracted 23.9 million tons of oil from the Chiraq field. By the end of the year the consortium will have spent $88 million on its operations in Azerbaijan. Capital expenses in 2002 amounted to $1.172 billion.

Speaking about the present situation of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) export oil pipeline, Woodward said that pipelaying works are intended to start in the first quarter of 2003. He expressed hope that the financial issues linked to the pipeline would be completely solved by the third quarter.

Asked whether a resolution to the Iraq problem would weaken the West's interest in Azerbaijani oil, Woodward said that he was not aware of any concern by BTC's partners about how or if events in Iraq would impact the world oil market or decrease the significance of Azerbaijan. Even if the crisis ends, the development of Iraqi oil fields would require millions of dollars and much time, Woodward said.

Woodward also emphasized that the cost of transporting Azerbaijani oil through the BTC pipeline amounts to $7.5 per barrel, which is quite competitive for the world market. Woodward said that at present BP is examining the possibility of buying LUKoil's 10 percent share in the Azerbaijani fields.

(Natig Zeinalli)

On 16 December the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights sponsored the first round table discussion on the draft unified election code. The Azerbaijani press gives wide coverage of this event.

The governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that the judiciary in Azerbaijan corresponds to international standards.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" cites Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar as saying that regardless of what law on elections is adopted, Musavat will contest the presidential elections.

Nazim Sabiroglu in an article entitled "The root of the problem" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that Azerbaijan, which possesses a lot of talented jurists and democratically minded people, does not need the OSCE's expert opinion. Such an insulting situation results from the government's guilt, as it is not interested in a democratic election law.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" ran an interview with Georg Nolte, coordinator of the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, with local media. Asked about his attitude toward the opposition's nonparticipation in the OSCE-sponsored roundtable meetings, Nolte said that such moves do not promote the development of democracy in Azerbaijan. He said that both the government and opposition bear equal responsibilities for such a situation. The two sides must come to an agreement in order to resolve the problem.

An author writing only as Rasul in the article "The problem of Georgian Azerbaijanis" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" notes that Azerbaijanis living in Georgia continue to arrive in Azerbaijan to live permanently here. The chief reason is a lack of political stability in Georgia. A mass flow of Azerbaijanis from Georgia was observed from 1991-94. Rasul notes that the level of education is still low in Georgia and the problem remains unsolved. Medical services as well as education for students in grades 9-11 is not free, and Azerbaijani villages in Georgia haven't received pensions for 10 months. Therefore, senior classes in some schools have been closed. Azerbaijanis who can't speak Georgian face numerous problems finding a job. But since there are no measures aimed at teaching Georgian to Azerbaijanis, these people are forced to leave the country.

Khalig Bahadir in the article "This government is not ours" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that for a long time the present government has been promising the Azerbaijani people that it would return Nagorno-Karabakh through peaceful negotiations. But it is well known that the government has no Karabakh strategy. Even if it has one, it is not a strategy of returning Karabakh, but a strategy of establishing an Armenian state in Nagorno-Karabakh. The facts prove this intention. The author notes that it is no secret that Heidar Aliev's government is made up of Azerbaijanis from Armenia. Most of the government's members were expelled from Armenia by force. Their representation in the present government gave them a great chance to return to their historical lands. Instead, these people have created a corrupted bribe-grabbing government.

Opposition Azadlig (Freedom) Party Chairman Ahmed Oruj in an article entitled "To Unite? But with whom?" in the independent newspaper "525" comments on cohesion in the opposition camp. One of the factors that demonstrate the senselessness of the opposition's cohesion idea is the loss of principles. In normal republics the people decide to support political leaders -- or not -- because of the politician's image and ideas. But in today's Azerbaijani opposition there are people who once were in Heidar Aliev's government but later were expelled from it. At present these opposition members expect a sign to return to the government. It is no secret that within the opposition there are even former corrupt officials who participated in the falsification of elections. The society cannot vote for such unscrupulousness. Only those who are unaware of the significance of events and for what they are voting can support the "opposition cohesion" idea. A society, whose members do not know what they are voting for cannot be called "normal."

An author writing only as Mirzabeili in the article "An atmosphere of defeat within the opposition is being felt now" in the government newspaper "Khalg" points out that the opposition parties, which have lost both internal and international support, even now feel the atmosphere of defeat regarding the upcoming presidential elections. As a result some opposition members are appealing to the ruling parties. Others demand the resignation of the opposition parties' chairmen.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)