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Azerbaijan Report: January 24, 2003

24 January 2003
President Reverses Decision on People's Front Factions
On 22 January President Heydar Aliyev cancelled the Justice Ministry's decision on changing the representation of the People's Front Party (AXCP). Earlier, on 13 January, the Ministry of Justice cancelled the registration of the AXCP headed by Ali Kerimli and formally registered another AXCP faction headed by Gudret Hasenguliev as the official AXCP. In 2000, following the death of its chairman, former president Abulfez Elchibey, the AXCP broke into two rival groups--the "reformist" faction of Ali Kerimli and the "conservative" one of Mirmahmud Miralioglu. After that Hasenguliev, former secretary of the Central Election Commission, tried to reunite the two groups, but failed. Later, he was expelled from the "reformist" faction on suspicion of cooperating with the government and establishing a new faction inside the AXCP. Hasenguliev's group held its founding congress in August 2002. The ministry's decision caused a protest of the AXCP "reformist" and the "conservative" factions. Other leading opposition parties also refused to acknowledge the government's decision and cooperate with Hasenguliev's organization.

Meherrem Zulfigarli, deputy chairman of the opposition National Independence Party (AMIP) for propaganda issues, in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service called the presidential decree "natural." But the fact that the government first makes a decision and then cancels it is nothing else but a blow to the government's image. "Azerbaijan has joined the Council of Europe and President Aliyev seems to now realize that it is impossible to run Azerbaijan as he did in the 1970s."

Arif Hajiev, deputy chairman for organizational issues for the opposition Musavat Party, considers the presidential decree as "a failure of the government" and "the result of a contradiction within the government." "The registration of Hasenguliev's organization as the AXCP was absurd," he said. But Hajiev, who appreciated the presidential decision, said that the government must take the second step toward the AXCP and accept the "conservative wing" headed by Mirmahmud Miralioglu as the AXCP.

But Serdar Jelaloglu, secretary-general of the opposition Democratic Party (ADP), noted that the government always makes similar steps on the eve of elections, adding that the Justice Ministry could not make the decision on the AXCP without the president�s knowledge. "In the past we have repeatedly observed such games staged by the president in order to portray himself as a democrat on the threshold of the elections."

Hasenguliev, who formally chaired the AXCP for nine days, reacted negatively to the president's decision and said that his organization will announce its official decision on the decree after a meeting of his faction's administration board.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Opposition Pulls Out of OSCE Election Code Talks--Again
The attempt by the Baku Office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to lure the opposition back to the election code discussion table was rebuffed by a majority of opposition parties on 22 January. The Opposition Coordination Center (MKM), an umbrella organization of nine leading opposition parties, announced it would not join the OSCE-sponsored "contact meeting," to be held on 23 January. Only representatives from the Communist and the Liberal (ALP) parties said they would participate in the meeting. As a result of the MKM's announcement, the meeting was cancelled, the OSCE's press officer, Ulvu Akhundlu told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service. "The OSCE will submit its official position on the matter in the near future," he said.

The OSCE suggested the contact meeting after the opposition boycotted the first of round-table talks at the end of 2002. It hoped that the 23 January meeting would bring together the eight opposition and pro-governmental parties that overcame the 1 percent barrier in the last parliamentary elections to consider further discussion on the draft code before it goes before the Milli Majlis (parliament) in March. The MKM announced on 22 January that it would only discuss the draft law with special representatives of the president.

Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy executive chairman of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), called the latest opposition statement "an attempt to prevent the upcoming presidential elections�. But the opposition must know that irrespective of its position, it will not be able to either delay or stop the elections." As for the opposition's condition, Gurbanli does not see any sense in it.

"The opposition parties expect that the president will appoint a special representative in negotiations with them," he said. "But this issue is neither the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict nor the Caspian status issue."

(Babek Bekir)

Local NGOs Protest Grant Law Amendments
On 22 January a number of local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) picketed in a park in the city center against the changes to the Law on Grants. The protesters shouted slogans such as "hands off the third sector" and "resume tax abatements" among others.

The changes to the law, which come into effect at the beginning 2003, establish a new procedure for registering approved grant projects. It also requires NGOs to pay 27 percent of their wage fund into the Social Protection Fund, while individual employees must pay 2 percent of their salary into a pension fund. Finally NGOs have also been stripped of their Value Added Tax exemption.

Lawyer Eminaga Hajibeili said in his speech that the Social Protection Fund wants organizations to pay taxes for grant contracts that were signed prior to the amendments. He noted that the amendments to the law conflict with the Azerbaijani Constitution and international agreements signed by Azerbaijan.

Azai Guliev, president of the National Nongovernmental Organization Forum, said in an interview with the mass media that the latest changes could prevent the formation of an NGOs movement in Azerbaijan. Guliev pointed out that the NGO Forum and international donor organizations working in Azerbaijan have created working groups in order to reverse the amendments. The members of the forum's working group have met with Vahid Akhundov, the president's economic adviser and the author of the amendments, and Ali Hasanov, chief of the social-economic department in the Presidential Administration. Under an agreement reached with the officials during the meeting, NGOs must prepare and submit their proposals.

Under the resolution adopted at the end of the picket, NGOs express the hope that the president will cancel the amendments to the Law on Grants. The protesters also stated their determination to continue protests if their demands are not met.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Peter Burkhard, head of the Baku office of the OSCE, in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" comments on the opposition's refusal to participate in the OSCE-organized round-table talks on the government's draft of the unified election code. Burkhard noted that the organization is only on a mediation mission that it is still unclear whether the second round of round table discussions would be held.

Elshad Miralem in an article entitled "Opposition parties have refused the common dialogue proposed by the OSCE" in the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" recalls that the opposition did not participate the OSCE-sponsored round table discussions and thus demonstrated that it is not interested in constructive dialogue. The opposition put forward laughable arguments in order to excuse its position. "In fact, the opposition's purpose is not to achieve improvements to the draft law, because the opposition camp is sure that it will not be able to win the people's confidence even with more democratic voting," Miralem concludes.

Zahid Seferoglu in the article "Aliev's democratic elections pledge" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that since the presidential elections are approaching, the political environment in Azerbaijan is increasingly influenced the elections. While the opposition aims to improve the political and social situation of the population, the government is trying to benefit from its tried and tested methods: to promise the people free and just elections. Such a pledge was made by Ilham Aliyev during his recent meeting with Martines Cassan, special rapporteur of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to Azerbaijan. Aliyev assured Cassan that the presidential elections will be democratic and with the participation of international observers. But Seferoglu notes that the invitation of international observers does not mean that the elections will be free and fair. Therefore, Aliev's words are not of great importance. "The Azerbaijani government has bored international organization and the United States especially. In addition the Azerbaijani people are tired of it of its false pledges."

Goyturk in an article entitled "Why does the Azerbaijani entrepreneurship not develop?" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" notes that the main factors hindering entrepreneurship in Azerbaijan are artificial obstacles, officials not following procedure, numerous municipal fees and taxes and a lack of capital. Most privatized enterprises have closed for these reasons. Owners of these establishments are engaged in selling off old equipment and destroying material and technical basis of the enterprises. Lack of funds at present complicates rebuilding these enterprises and providing them with modern technologies. The government is taking some measures to solve these problems.

Mirbagir Yagubgizi in the article "Construction of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) oil pipeline is approaching" in the governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes that first tubes destined for the BTC construction have been brought to Baku. Yagubgizi notes that 39,000 tubes are required for the construction of the Azerbaijani sector of the pipeline, the length of which is some 460 kilometers. The process of bringing tubes to Azerbaijan will take about seven months. The author pointed out that yearly, some 50 million tonnes of oil will be transported thorough the pipeline, which is an important part of Azerbaijan's new oil strategy.

Ahmed Oruj in an article entitled "Before and now: What has changed?" in the independent newspaper "525" notes that once those persons whose rights were violated in Azerbaijan, complained to Moscow of injustice. There were even people who appealed directly to Lenin--the Moscow mausoleum. Nothing has changed since then. Azerbaijani people who cannot protect their rights have to seek support abroad. But the address for complaints has changed: the OSCE, the Council of Europe, the European Court, the UN, the powerful embassies in Azerbaijan and so on. Nevertheless, the author notes that the fact that the people are forced to look abroad to see that their rights are respected reflects badly on Azerbaijan.

Ilias Ismailov, chairman of the Adalat (Justice) Party, answered questions from the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo." Touching on the killing of Azerbaijanis in Russia and the difficulties encountered by Azerbaijanis at Iranian customs, Ismailov said that "our misfortune is that we are engaged not in recent events, but their outcomes." "Why must Azerbaijanis go to Russia in search of a job? In short, these reasons are to be investigated." As for the situation surrounding the People's Front Party (AXCP), Ismailov noted that everyone now knows that the law does not work in Azerbaijan. The legal system has become a lever for the government's policies.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)