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Azerbaijan Report: March 4, 2003

4 March 2003
Opposition Seeks Legal Ruling On Election Issues
As President Heidar Aliyev recuperates in an Ohio clinic after a hernia operation, a number of opposition parties have petitioned the court to look at the legal basis of several election issues, including Aliev's right to contest the presidential election in the fall.

On 28 February the Opposition Coordination Center (MKM), a grouping of nine of the largest opposition parties, asked the Constitutional Court to provide a legal opinion on four separate election issues.

To date there have never been any official results by district or polling station of the 2000 parliamentary election. As this is a violation of the constitution, the MKM has requested a legal opinion on this.

The MKM also asked the court to comment on the fact that Heidar Aliyev is both the head of state and leader of a political party. This is in direct conflict with Article 8 of the Law on Political Parties, said Justice Party Chairman Ilias Ismailov, one of the signatories to the appeal.

The appeal also asks the court to express an opinion regarding the total number of Milli Majlis (parliament) deputies permitted to hold posts within the presidential administration and district Executive Committees. The MKM believes that this number is over the permitted limit.

Finally, the appeal asks the court to clarify the legitimacy of the president's intention to run for a third term.

Ismailov pointed out that the constitution -- which was adopted in 1995 -- states that a person is eligible for only two consecutive terms as president. There is a transition clause in the constitution, which states that the two-term limit is valid only following the adoption of the constitution. As Aliyev was first elected president in 1993, he has argued that he is eligible to run once more. But Ismailov contends that this "transition article" is in contradiction with the constitution's basic demands and is therefore not valid.

At the end of 2002, Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer emphasized the need for amendments to the constitution in order to permit Aliyev to run for a third term. However, Constitutional Court Chairman Khanlar Hajiev said in the government media that there is no need for any changes, adding that the transition article in the constitution does in fact permit the president to contest a third term.

Fezail Agamali, chairman of the pro-governmental Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party and a member of the parliamentary Committee on Legal Policy and State-Systems Building, said that the opposition is making baseless claims in order to confuse the Azerbaijani people. Agamali noted that the outcomes of the 1998 and 2000 elections have been published in official outlets in different forms. Touching on the allegation that the constitution forbids the incumbent president to contest a third term, Agamali noted that transition articles themselves are a component part of the law and there is no contradiction. He also said that while the law on political parties forbids a president to head any political party, the constitution does not expressly state that a political party leader cannot hold a presidential post. As this article of the political parties law contradicts the constitution, which is a higher law, it -- and not the constitution -- must be amended, Agamali concluded.

Ismailov noted that if the MKM is not satisfied with the Constitutional Court's opinion, it will appeal to international organizations to further investigate the issue.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Two Prisoners Confirm Hunger Strike, Claiming Abuse
Fahmin Hajiev, a former commander of the Interior Ministry's troops, and Natig Efendiev, who headed the Ganja police from 1994 to 1996, are going on hunger strikes at the hard labor prison in Gobustan. Efendiev, who is considered a political prisoner by the Council of Europe, was arrested in 2000 on charges of attempting a coup and in 2001 was sentenced to life in prison. Hajiev, who is considered by local rights groups but not the Council of Europe to be a political prisoner, was arrested in 1994 on charges of surrendering Khojaly to Armenian armed forces in 1992 and was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

At a 28 February press conference at the office of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," the Committee for Protection of Hajiev's Rights noted that he does not intend to stop the hunger strike, demanding an end to the pressure on him and reconsideration of his legal case. Hajiev's lawyer, Genire Isgenderova, said he told her that he was again the victim of violence and torture.

"We have had information about the prior intimidation of Hajiev but preferred to keep silent for fear that revealing such information would exacerbate the violence against him," Isgenderova said. "But the latest events caused us to change our minds." She also noted that there was a significant effort to prevent her from meeting with her client.

Isgenderova said that during her meeting she repeatedly asked Hajiev to end his hunger strike. But she said he intends to continue until all his demands are fulfilled. All documents on Hajiev's case have been sent to the European Court of Human Rights, Isgenderova said, adding that she has already received a response.

Saida Gojamanli, chairman of the Human Rights and Legislation Protection Bureau, pointed out that the same situation is also true for Natif Efendiev. But Efendiev's wife told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that he has stopped a dry hunger strike and begun to take water.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

On 3 March Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev underwent surgery on a hernia at the Cleveland Clinic. Local newspapers gave wide coverage to this event.

Under the headline "Will government-opposition dialogue take place?" the independent newspaper "525" writes that international organizations are failing to bring together the Azerbaijani government and opposition in discussing the draft election code.

Zeinal Nagiev, executive director of the All-Russian Azerbaijani Congress, said in an interview with the government newspaper "Khalg" that there was no premeditated intimidation of Azerbaijanis in Russia. As to the killing of Russian Azerbaijanis, Nagiev noted that the attitude toward Azerbaijanis and generally Caucasians in Russia is not at an acceptable level. As some Azerbaijanis themselves say, the Russian people call Azerbaijanis "bazaar men" and consider them to be people without an ancient history and great culture.

Elgun Araz in an article entitled "Information from Cleveland about the operation" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that any serious problems of the president's health immediately create such a panic within the presidential command back in Baku that the situation throughout Azerbaijan becomes much worse that the state of the patient in Cleveland. The latest operation is the fourth one on the president, Araz writes, adding that he underwent heart bypass surgery in April 1999 and received a treatment for prostate cancer in 2002, too many for an 80-year-old who still bears the burden of power. He concludes that it's really a tragedy that he is still forced to work, a man cruelly exploited by unsatisfied political passions. "This is an election year, which will demand from Aliyev strained activity, physical and intellectual energy. But how will a person who has undergone four operations stand such a rigorous regime?" Araz notes that the only rational and conscientious thing to do is for the 80 year old to resign and make way for democratic elections.

Elkhan Shahinoglu in the article "Who is deceiving whom?" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" notes, referring to the Azerbaijani president's visit to the United States, that the Azerbaijani government builds its policy on the promises of foreigners. Indeed, the government does not forget the lesson of the negative advertising campaign, following the 1996 OSCE Lisbon summit. But the strategy has not yet changed. Governmental representatives do not want to bear the brunt of responsibility for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and expect one from the foreigners. Parliament speaker Murtuz Alesgerov has expressed his opinion openly. He told parliament members who demand putting the Nagorno-Karabakh issue on the agenda that "if you wanted to solve the problem, then you could have done it during the period when you were ruling." Shahinoglu also points out that the government has not yet even prepared a mechanism for settlement of the conflict via others' mediation. Those who consider the possibility of an American invasion in Iraq, attempt to predict what direction the processes will develop in following the United States attack on Baghdad. But it seems that Azerbaijani government is not interested in this matter. The situation surrounding Iraq gives Azerbaijan an essential chance to reinforce its position in the world. Aliyev rightly pointed out at his meetings in Washington that the Azerbaijani public supports the use of force to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The president merely says "the Azerbaijani people want a war," but he does not want to make the second step to demonstrate his determination to the international community.

An author writing only as Habiboglu in an article entitled "Heidar Aliyev has undergone surgery" in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that even before the president's visit to the United States a number of opposition parties wrote about the planned visit of the president to Cleveland because of his health. But presidential administration official Novruz Memmedov denied these allegations. Nevertheless, afterward government stated that the president would set off for the United States at the invitation of U.S. President George W. Bush. "Nobody, including the president, is insured against such illnesses. Therefore, there is nothing strange that a human organism sometimes needs treatment." Habiboglu also notes that concealing the president's health problems from the population gives rise to rumors and speculation.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)