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Azerbaijan Report: December 20, 2002

20 December 2002
Georgia, Azerbaijan Sign Agreement On Military, Technical Cooperation
The Azerbaijani and Georgian Defense ministries signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation on 16 December in Tbilisi. Turan news agency cited Georgian Defense Ministry sources as saying that the document provides for cooperation in training of military specialists.

Georgia had already signed such an agreement with Armenia. However, some Azerbaijani experts have called the Georgian-Armenian cooperation agreement a "symbolic one" mainly because Armenia has aligned itself with Russia, which is against Georgia's interests.

Elkhan Mehdiev, head of the nongovernmental Center for Conflict Settlement, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that at the beginning of 2002 Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia signed an agreement on security cooperation. Although the document provides for cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking, Armenia called it a military alliance. Therefore, Georgia signed a similar document with Armenia.

Mehdiev said that the Azerbaijani-Georgian agreement is a part of the two countries' efforts to ensure security in energy transport as well as to join the Euro-Atlantic security structure.

Tajeddin Mehdiev, a former Azerbaijani defense minister, also links the agreement to geostrategic factors. He notes that such documents are not enough to insure the two countries against foreign threats. He believes that Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Georgia should sign a mutual-military-assistance pact, since these countries are united by common long-term strategic interests. (Natig Zeinalli)

MKM Repeats Demand For Election Law Reconciliation Commission
At a 19 December meeting of the Opposition Coordinating Center (MKM) -- a grouping of three leading opposition parties plus the "reformist wing" of a fourth -- stated that the 16-17 December OSCE-sponsored roundtable meetings on the government's draft unified election code cannot be considered valid, since the opposition did not participate.

The parties also discussed the preliminary work for the Free Election Forum, to be held at the end of December. They noted that the MKM would announce its basic position on the draft code at this forum.

Moreover, the MKM also repeated its condition for participation in the election law discussion process: formation of a reconciliation commission that would discuss each of the 246 articles of the draft law.

Fezail Agamali, chairman of the pro-government Motherland Party and a participant at the 16-17 December roundtable talks, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the absence of some of the opposition parties from the discussion process didn't cast a shadow on the meetings. Most political forces took part in the meetings and even put forward their suggestions. Therefore, the opposition's attempts to reduce the impact of the roundtable talks is baseless.

On 18 December the OSCE's Baku office issued a statement expressing regret for the opposition's boycott of the roundtable meetings. It also supported the opposition's demand to create a reconciliation commission.

(Babek Bekir)

Three NGOs Call For Government To Resign
At the beginning of December the Institute for Peace and Democracy, the Amal Intelligentsia Movement, and the Karabakh Freedom Organization (QAT) demanded the resignation of the president and suggested creating a government of national confidence. These organizations noted that considering the country's difficult situation, all political forces must unite and do their best to rid Azerbaijan of its current problems.

Thus far seven public organizations have expressed their support. QAT Chairman Akif Nagi expressed hope that political forces would also join their appeal in the future.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

On 19 December President Heidar Aliyev held an extended meeting dedicated to Azerbaijan's winter energy shortages. The governmental newspapers "Khalg" and "Azerbaycan" gave wide coverage to this event.

The newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that during the meeting the president said that the Azerbaijani people must be thankful that things aren't any worse. At present, numerous natural disasters have been observed in different parts of the world -- snow has covered big cities, strong winds and floods have ruined entire towns and countries. "We must thank God that we have not encountered such situations," the president said.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" writes that the next GUUAM summit will be held in Tbilisi next summer. It has not been excluded that during the summit the member states will discuss expanding the organization.

Under the headline "The opposition has again missed a chance for dialogue," the newspaper "Khalg" notes that the discussion of the draft election law was the original theme of the dialogue.

Zelimkhan Memmedli, activist of the "conservative wing" of the Azerbaijan People's Front Party, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" that a sensible political dialogue must be initiated by the political forces of Azerbaijan, not the OSCE.

Azadlig (Freedom) Party Chairman Ahmed Oruj in an article entitled "What is a superior society?" in the independent newspaper "525" writes that the nation needs a more active youth to emerge. Most of those who go on about democracy and call themselves "democrats" are not ready for democratic and fair elections. It can't be excluded that these "democrats" would resort to violence and falsification as soon as they came to power. The author notes that the "democratic resources" of Azerbaijan are made up of people who realize the need to build a democratic society and promote its development, adding that the younger generation can be a source of energy for the activities of these resources. It is no secret that, unlike the older generation, the young have no nostalgia for the past. Moreover, they take a stronger position on the issue of democracy.

Rovshen Rustamov in the article "the number of banks will fall" in the independent newspaper "Uch nogta" talks about the National Bank's reforms. Rustamov points out that until an insurance system is created to protect deposits from potential risks, it is meaningless to talk about progress in the banking sector. At present 717.7 billion manats ($146.7 million) is deposited in local banks, 41.6 percent of those deposits are in private banks.

Orkhan Kerimov in an article entitled "A law on oil revenues must be adopted" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" emphasized the necessity of regulating the activities of the State Oil Fund and imposing control over oil revenues. The author says that the IMF is trouble and a strict stance on the issue is "understandable." In practice there are enough negative examples in the world in this sphere. For example, according to international corruption organizations, despite the fact that Nigeria has exported $320 billion in oil during the last 30 years, it remains one of the world's poorest countries. In other words, oil revenues must be regulated and placed under control, in order to prevent lack of transparency and corruption.

Beginning in 2003, regular sessions of the Milli Mejlis (parliament) will be held twice a month, according to amendments to internal regulations of the parliament. An author writing only as Konul in an article entitled "Why have parliamentary sessions been reduced?" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" links the issue with the upcoming presidential elections. On the eve of the elections the president wants to take all the state institutions, including the parliament, under his control, and thus smother the remaining democratic principle within them. It can be seen that a number of forces even from within the parliament are trying to get from under the government's watchful eye and act independently. These forces are taking an active part in discussions on the draft election law and are protesting the pressure campaign against the media.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)