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Azeri Opposition, Ruling Party Begin Landmark Talks

Azerbaijani President Aliyev Prague, 4 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) and several prominent opposition parties are meeting at YAP headquarters in Baku today for talks aimed at reducing tensions between the two sides in the runup to parliamentary elections due in November. It is the first such meeting between the two camps.

Both sides have affirmed their hypothetical readiness for such a dialogue since shortly after the October 2003 presidential elections but, until yesterday when YAP proposed the meeting, neither side has extended a concrete invitation to the other.

Senior YAP functionary Mubariz Gurbanly said on 3 May there is no formal agenda for the talks, but that he hopes participants will agree on topics to be addressed at future discussions.

But Azerbaijani presidential administration head Ramiz Mehtiev, whom some observers believe is the eminence grise behind President Ilham Aliyev, told journalists on 3 May that the authorities are not prepared to make any concessions regarding the opposition's primary demand, which is for equal representation with YAP on the Central Election Commission and lower level election bodies.

Mehtiev said that the existing election legislation is adequate to ensure that the November ballot is free, fair and democratic.