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Azerbaijan Ruling Party, Opposition To Continue Talks

President Aliyev Baku, 4 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Representatives of four Azerbaijani opposition parties, two pro-government parties, and the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (YAP) met yesterday in Baku for what participants subsequently termed productive talks on the political situation.

It was the first such meeting since the disputed October 2003 presidential election that compounded tensions between the Azerbaijani leadership and opposition. Participants agreed to continue the dialogue, but did not set a specific date or agenda for their next meeting.

The 4 May meeting took place at the initiative of senior YAP functionary Ali Akhmedov. The other two pro-government parties were representated by their respective leaders, as was the Azerbaijan National Independence Party. The opposition Musavat party, Democratic Party of Azerbaijan (DPA), and the reformist wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHCP) sent deputy leaders to attend the talks.

Participants declined to give a detailed account of the discussions, but both camps described the talks as useful. Describing the meeting as "frank and constructive," Akhmedov told journalists that the participants reached "a general consensus on some issues and raised specific questions" which will be discussed at the next meeting, to be hosted by the AHCP.

Akif Shabazov of the DPA said particular attention was focused on preparations for the parliamentary elections due in November. He did not reveal, however, whether the talks centered on the opposition's main concern with regard to those elections, which is that the existing Electioral Code be changed so that pro-government parties and the opposition are equally represented on election commissions.

President Ilham Aliyev and presidential administratoion head Ramiz Mehtiev have both ruled out any such amendments. Aliyev did, however, reaffirm on 4 May his insistence that the November ballot should be free, fair, and democratic.

While acknowledging the need for dialogue, some Azerbaijani commentators have questioned whether the YAP-opposition talks will, in fact, yield any positive results, suggesting that YAP proposed them under pressure from the U.S. and the Council of Europe to create the illusion that the authorities are open to dialogue.

Initially, the opposition pushed for talks with senior members of either the government or the presidential administration; it was Parliaemntary Assembly of the Council of Europe rapporteur for Azerbaijan Andreas Gross who, during a visit to Baku last month, proposed the alternative of talks between YAP and the opposition. But as the online daily commented on 5 May, YAP has, at least formally, only very limited authority to ensure that the November ballot is indeed free and fair.

Permission to hold pre-election rallies in Baku and other cities is granted not by YAP but by the municipal authorities. And, in the event that President Aliyev drops his stated objections to amending the Electoral Code, it is the parliament, not the YAP leadership, that must enact the relevant legislation.