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Azerbaijan Report: February 24, 2004

24 February 2004
International Organizations Have Given $600 Million To Azerbaijan
"Humanitarian aid worth some $600 million has been provided to Azerbaijan during the past 10 years. The country has avoided a social crisis thanks to this aid. Without this assistance, the situation with refugees and internally displaced persons (IDP) would have been difficult," said President Ilham Aliyev at an international conference entitled "Ten-year-long humanitarian interference in Azerbaijan: impact, experience, future directions," held on 17-19 February in Baku. President Aliyev added that in 2003 the sum of international humanitarian assistance amounted to $36 million. Considering all this, the president expressed hope that humanitarian organizations will continue this mission in the future as well. He also highly praised the contribution of foreign oil, as well as of local companies to humanitarian activities.

The forum was organized by United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Norwegian Refugees Council, and other humanitarian organizations. The speakers emphasized the need to continuation this assistance until the Karabakh conflict is settled and refugees and IDPs return to their lands. But the aid provided by international institutions must be aimed at promoting education and creating new workplaces.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Nobel Family Society Helps Azeri Scientists
"Thirty percent of the Nobel Prize assets consist of incomes that Alfred Nobel received from his oil business in Baku," said Michael Nobel, a member of the Nobel Family Society, at a press conference dedicated to his recent trip to Baku. Michael Nobel said that the purpose of his visit to Baku was to restore Villa Petrolea, the residence of the Nobel brothers, which they built in the late 1800s in the "Black City" district of Baku. Michael Nobel said that he was greatly distressed by the current mournful air of the residence. But now a special Baku-Nobel Heritage Foundation is going to invest $3 million in the restoration of the Nobel House. The founders are Nobel Family Society, local International Oil and Gas Club and Azpetrol Holding. But the aim of the Nobels is not only to perpetuate the memory of their ancestors. Once Villa Petrolea is reconstructed in its original appearance, various international meetings are expected to be held there. All 425 members of the Nobel family may even gather in Baku. The foundation will also implement broad research programs and render assistance to young and talented scientists.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Opposition Worries About Possible Changes In Law On Political Parties
A draft law on political parties will be submitted for the consideration of the parliament at its spring session, according to Rabiyyat Aslanova, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission on human rights. He noted that the current law on political parties was adopted in 1992 and many things have changed since then. As the social and political processes evolve, the law must be modified.

The reaction of the opposition camp to the proposed amendments to the law is entirely different. The opposition activists argue that although the law was adopted in 1992, it has served as the legal foundation for the democratization of the political system. "Proposals to alter the law have been voiced for the last 10 years. But in substance these proposals are aimed not at democratizing the law, but at obtaining leverage over political parties," according to Ali Kerimli, head of the opposition People's Front Party (AXCP).

(Zerkhanim Ahmedli)

Press Council Forms Commission To Regulate Media-Authorities Relationship
The local Press Council has established a permanent commission for solving problems between mass media and authorities. Azer Hasret, a member of the Press Council, told RFE/RL that under the adopted regulations, the special commission will engage in establishing normal relations between the media and state institutions.

According to Ganimat Zahidov, editor-in-chief of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," officials furnish information to only certain groups of journalists and thus are seeking to create the appearance that no problems exist with the media and freedom of speech in Azerbaijan.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Ehsan Zahidov of the Interior Ministry press service called such critical remarks baseless, adding that Interior Ministry in particular is interested in providing information regarding its activities, as well as other issues which the ministry is responsible for. Other state institutions refrained from comments.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Opposition Activists Stop Hunger Strike
All the people arrested in connection with the 15-16 October riots in capital Baku have stopped their hunger strike. On 9 February several dozen detainees went on hunger strike to protest the unfair investigation into the post-election mass disturbances. But later one group abandoned the protest. The opposition members noted in their statements regarding the end of the hunger strike that the action was stopped at request of opposition leaders, representatives of the intelligentsia, heads of human rights organizations and family members, Turan news agency reported.

Meanwhile a number of international organizations have appealed to the Azeri government, demanding that Rauf Arifoglu, editor of the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" and one of the hunger strikers, be released. The New-York-based International League for Human Rights has send a message to President Ilham Aliyev expressing concern about Arigfoglu's detention and deteriorating health. Yadigar Mammedli, head of the Committee for Rights of Arifoglu, said that the hunger strike has negatively affected his health.

According to the Prosecutor General's Office, the cases of the detainees charged with organizing mass disturbances are to be submitted to the court in the near future. Arifoglu will be brought to trial in March.

(Kebiran Dilaverli) (Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)