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Azerbaijan Report: March 11, 2003

11 March 2003
Opposition Looks To Council Of Europe To Resolve Election-Code Stalemate
The Opposition Coordination Center (MKM) -- a grouping of nine of the largest opposition parties -- appealed on 7 March to the Council of Europe to intervene in the current stalemate between the government and opposition over the draft unified election code. Although the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has thus far played the role of mediator, MKM pointed out that Azerbaijan has concrete obligations before the Council of Europe to ensure democratic elections. Thus its voice may carry more weight.

Mubariz Ahmedoglu, chairman of the Center for Political Innovation and Technologies, a local nongovernmental organization, agrees that the Council of Europe's interference could improve the situation. Ahmedoglu said that unlike the OSCE, the Council of Europe moves more quickly in promoting suggestions and -- depending on situation -- realizing them. He added that Azerbaijani political forces have a lot of experience in cooperation with the council. "I think it would better if the council interferes in the matter," Ahmedoglu said. "Unlike the OSCE, Azerbaijan has concrete obligations to this organization. What is more, the Council of Europe possesses more efficient methods to realize the existing proposals."

However, Ali Abbasov, director of the South Caucasian Center for Peace Culture and Dialogue between Civilizations, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the Council of Europe's intervention in the issue would not promote serious changes. Abbasov said that even if the most democratic election code is adopted, it would not guarantee democratic elections in Azerbaijan. It would be better to attempt to create a free election climate in Azerbaijan than to struggle for democratic election legislation.

"We have watched the presidential ballot in Armenia. International organizations also participated in the legislative process there. But what was the result? I think that, in general, the South Caucasus needs not good laws, but good execution of laws," Abbasov commented. Abbasov noted that current discussions of the draft election code divert people's attention from the real problem: how the laws function.

Meanwhile, the MKM will hold a rally on 16 March from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to Galaba Square. The rally will call for free elections, freedom for Nagorno-Karabakh, and the resignation of President Heidar Aliyev among other demands.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Opposition Party Protest Calls For Charges Against Leader To Be Dropped
Supporters of the Azerbaijan Democratic Party (ADP) held a sanctioned protest from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to Galaba Square on 9 March. The demonstration was to call for the removal of all political and legal obstacles to ADP Chairman Rasul Guliev's return to Azerbaijan. Guliev presently lives in the United States and is wanted in Azerbaijan on embezzlement charges.

The protesters demanded that the charges against Guliev be dropped and for intimidation of his relatives to cease. They also called for the holding of free and democratic elections.

Gurban Mammadov, a member of the ADP political council, was the first to speak. He said that irrespective of who the people vote for in the upcoming presidential elections, Heidar Aliyev will be announced the winner. Therefore, it is important to achieve the president's resignation before the election.

The resolution adopted at the end of the protest called for the government to stop pressure on Guliev, his relatives, and supporters, as well as to eliminate artificial legal and political obstacles created to prevent Guliev from returning to Azerbaijan. The paper also demanded the government resign because it is unwilling to fulfill its constitutional tasks. No clashes between the police and protesters were observed.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Under the headline "The Gabala radiolocation station's impact on the environment," the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" says that should a war begin against Iraq, the radiolocation station would have a serious negative impact on environment. If the station begins intensified activity, radiation is predicted to increase in Gabala District.

Under the headline "The opposition camp is sick of 'show,'" the governmental newspaper "Khalg" points out that People Party Chairman Penah Huseinov intends to give a lesson to the opposition.

The article "The government has refused dialogue with the opposition" published in the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" comments on the failure of the negotiations between Shahin Aliev, the author of the government's draft election code, and opposition expert Fuad Agaev. According to the article, no one within the government is allowed to comment on any of the opposition's suggested changes without the president's knowledge; therefore, it is necessary to wait for his return.

Under the headline "A civil war in Armenia can begin at any moment," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that falsification of the presidential election's results has increased the risk that the political struggle will degenerate into an armed confrontation.

Presidential administration official Novruz Mammadov in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" accuses opposition media outlets of spreading false information about the president's health. "When reading their articles, it is felt that all the information has been fabricated. The president feels well. Of course, it will take him a certain period to recover. The president himself intended to return to the motherland, but had to delay a little on the recommendation of doctors. The Azerbaijani people can be completely sure that there is no problem in the president's health." Memmedov also denies the allegation that the presidential administration had begun working intensively.

Ganimet Zahidov in an article entitled "Closed chaos" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that "the president is ill again.... Intrigues within the government and talk about who will be the prime minister are gearing up.... The public is alarmed with not who will be the president after Aliev, but a possible struggle between semi-clan groups after his departure from power.... The unclear information about the president's health could accelerate the competition among these semi-clans."

Elchin Musabeili, secretary of the People's Front Party splinter group headed by Gudret Hasanguliev, comments in an interview with the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" on the results of the 5 March by-elections to the Milli Majlis and on "Day X," meaning the date that President Aliyev relinquishes power. Musabeili says that "only the weak and helpless wish death to another person. The opposition has doomed itself to a moral death by such a thought. There is nothing more unholy than to wish someone's death." Touching on the results of the by-election, Musabeili said that international organizations have to reveal their attitude toward the voting. But although six days have passed since the elections, they have not made any statement. According to international practice, observers express their opinion one day after the elections. A number of international observers have no evidence of irregularities, but they don't have the courage to admit that the voting was democratic.

Parliament deputy Ali Ahmedov, executive secretary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP), says in an interview with the pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" that YAP will benefit from modern technologies in the upcoming presidential ballot. Asked whether opposition demonstrations are "obstacles on the path to the elections," Ahmedov notes that there is one feature common to most opposition parties: when these parties have no convincing arguments, they resort to force. Since the opposition is not in a position to offer persuasive arguments against the government's draft election code, it eventually decided to begin rallies and protests. Ahmedov says that as Azerbaijan is a society based on civil principles, all significant issues must be solved via common sense. Resorting to violence on the streets cannot resolve anything.

Zahid Seferoglu in the article "The proposal is the same one" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" discusses the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen's Washington discussions. Seferoglu says that any new proposal based on mutual concessions does not suit Armenian President Robert Kocharian at present. It is not accidental that Armenia states that new proposals can be formed only on the basis of old ones. The mediators' old suggestions are clear, and all of them contradict Azerbaijan's national interests. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Vilayet Guliev has also cast doubt on a new proposal. "If the parties are unaware of the mediators' plans, then where does the information about a new peace variant originate from?" Seferoglu asks. He points out that the mediators intend to simulate peace negotiations. What is interesting is that talks about new peace proposals appeared right after the Azerbaijani president's meeting with American mediator Rudolf Perina. So all this can also be considered as government propaganda. In general, the recent developments in the South Caucasus reduce the possibility of a peaceful solution to the Karabakh conflict. The fact that the Armenian president's status is illegal after the elections is a serious blow to hopes for progress.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)