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Azerbaijan Report: April 22, 2003

22 April 2003
President Collapses Twice on TV, but Officials Assure He is Well
Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev collapsed twice during a televised speech on 21 April. The president was speaking at an event devoted to the 30th anniversary of the military academy named after Jamshid Nakhichevanski. Later, the presidential press service stated that Mr. Aliyev "lost his balance as a result of a severe drop in blood pressure that stabilized after a few minutes. � Now, the president's condition is fine," the statement said. The next day state-run television reported that Aliyev met with U.S. Ambassador to Azerbaijan, Ross Wilson to discuss Azerbaijan's offer to send peacekeepers to Iraq.

Aliev, who will turn 80 in May, has been hospitalized several times over the last few years. In April 1999 he underwent heart bypass surgery at the Ohio-based Cleveland Clinic after suffering a heart attack. In February 2002, he underwent prostate surgery and an operation to remove a cataract. In March the president again returned to The Cleveland Clinic for a hernia operation, according to official reports.

A Constitutional referendum in August 2002 modified the article that dictates the transfer of power in the event that the president is unable to hold office, changing the succession of power from the speaker of Parliament to the prime minister, a position appointed by the president. Critics at the time charged that Aliyev arranged the change in order to ensure that his son Ilham would be his successor. Artur Rasizade is currently prime minister.

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service)

U.S. Encourages Caucasus to Work toward Democratic Elections
Stephan Minikes, who is U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), has stated that democratic elections are one of the crucial requirements in ordeer to speed up the Caucasus countries' integration into the democratic world. Minikes said that although the OSCE has made some steps to ensure the democratization process, so far none of the Caucasus states has held elections that correspond to international standards. Minikes noted that like the OSCE, the United States is also keeping Caucasian elections in the limelight, adding that the 2003 presidential ballot in Azerbaijan, as well as parliamentary elections in Georgia will be of great importance for the West's relations with these countries. The Council of Europe will also work toward democratic and transparent elections in these two Caucasus states, Minikes said.

Meanwhile, disputes over the government's unified election code continue as the draft goes into its second reading in the Milli Mejlis (parliament). Etibar Mammadov, chairman of the National Independence Party, said in his speech at a 13 April Opposition Coordination Center protest that the government has agreed to some of the opposition's demands regarding disputed points in the draft election code. But Mammadov did not reveal the nature of these concessions.

Last week two Azerbaijani officials--Shahin Aliev, head of the Department on Legislation and Legal Expertise in the Presidential Administration and co-author of the controversial draft election code, and Sefa Mirzaev, head of the parliament�s secretariat--returned from Strasbourg where they participated in a 14 April discussion on the code under the aegis of the Council of Europe. During their meetings at the Council of Europe's Venice Commission, international experts demanded that the composition of elections committees and their work mechanism be agreed with the opposition, insiders within the opposition claimed.

The opposition insists on forming election committees from members of all political parties that overcame the 1 percent barrier during the last parliamentary elections. But according to the draft law, one third of committees' members must be from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, one-third independent deputies and one-third representatives of opposition political parties represented in the parliament. Moreover, the government suggests that three of the committees' members must be judges.

Legal expert Fuad Agaev, who has represented the Opposition Coordination Center in negotiations with the government, told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that if election committees are formed in that way, the opposition will only have at most one or two seats on the commissions, while the ruling power will claim the rest. Most independent parliament deputies in fact support the government and judges are not independent from the ruling powers, he said.

Agaev suggested that international organizations could pressure the Azerbaijani government to make some concessions. He added that the government will only compromise if it feels it is losing its control on power. Concessions in this form do not meet the Council of Europe's demands and the opposition will not accept them. "The Council of Europe demands that all political forces be represented in election committees. The opposition's limit for concessions in this issue has expired," Agaev said.

Vurgun Eyyub, deputy chairman of the opposition Musavat Party, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service that on reading the draft law carefully, it becomes clear that the Azerbaijani government has no intention of holding democratic elections. "I regret that instead of discussing the essence of the proposed draft, the parliament is organizing attacks on the opposition," he said. "It is possible to compromise on other articles [of the code], but it is out of the question for the opposition to concede on such issues as formation of the election commissions, which would decide the fate of the ballot."

Fazail Agamali, chairman of the pro-government Ana Vatan (Motherland) Party, noted that the draft election code reflects all democratic principles. Agamali said that during discussions opposition parliament deputies did not submit any fundamental suggestions. "I think that some suggestions made during the parliamentary discussion could be taken into account� But such suggestions as decreasing the number of election pledges and collecting votes from 60 election districts for candidates' registrations are unacceptable. The chief matter of the dispute is the formation of election commissions and a compromise in this issue is possible," Agamali concluded.

Motherland Party deputy chairman Zahid Oruj noted the government's limit for concessions has expired. He said that no significant changes are expected to the draft election code after discussions with the Council of Europe. Some small suggestions voiced by international organizations may be reflected in the code, but it is impossible to change the principle of forming election commissions as the opposition claims. "The Presidential Administration's officials have stated that international organizations have accepted the form of forming election committees. It is no longer a theme for debate," Oruj said. Oruj pointed that it is unrealistic that the opposition would succeed in changing the structure of election committees through protests. At present some opposition circles attempt to escalate the situation for no reason at all.

"Now certain opposition representatives state that they will destroy polling stations after the ballot. I think this is the same forces that are now aggravating the situation," Oruj concluded.

(Zhale Mutallimova and Natig Zeinalli)

NATO, EU Membership a Long Way Off, Says Expert
On 17 April Bruce Jackson, president of the Project on Transitional Democracies and head of the stateside non-governmental organization U.S. Committee for NATO, gave a lecture on the subject of Azerbaijan's place in Europe at Western University in Baku.

At first Jackson spoke about the processes taking place in Europe and the development of European countries.Jackson said that those who want to be Europeans must integrate to Europe without fail. Touching on Azerbaijan's membership of the European Union, Jackson said that Azerbaijan must be optimistic about this matter. He pointed out that Poland has been fulfilling requirements for NATO and EU integration for 72 months, while the Baltic countries have been doing this for only 29 months. Jackson noted that Azerbaijan would most likely join NATO earlier than it would the European Union.

Analyzing this process, attention must be paid to three dates. At first, there will be a NATO summit in June 2004, where the alliance will consider the membership of candidate countries Georgia and Albania. The next NATO summit is expected to be in 2006, and there representatives will discuss the alliance's enlargement that will have a certain impact on Azerbaijan.

As for the European Union, the organization plans to hold a summit in 2007. Jackson expressed doubt that Azerbaijan would be able to complete the required processes by this date.

Jackson pointed out that Azerbaijan's membership in NATO depends on who the next president will be and how reforms will be carried out, the level of political pluralism, the role of the mass media and non-governmental organizations, and the struggle against corruption.

Asked "Should NATO come to the South Caucasus, how can it affect on the stability in region?" Jackson said that NATO could come to this region only if Azerbaijan and Georgia do some work on national security. He noted that he visited Georgia before Azerbaijan. Some Georgians believe that after the Georgian government sends its membership application to NATO, Russian forces will be expelled from Abkhazia, Jackson said. But this assumption is wrong, the system does not work like this. NATO generally draws attention to countries' democratization and common cooperation.

Touching on the fate of the Gabala radiolocation station after Azerbaijan joins NATO, Jackson noted that NATO conducts negotiations with Russia regarding each new member of the alliance. NATO's enlargement serves the Russian national security interests as well, Jackson concluded.

(Almaz Mahmudgizi)

The opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that after the incident at Republican Palace when the president twice lost his balance and fell, a state of emergency was been declared. Law-enforcement bodies and special services have been placed at the highest readiness. Security at buildings of state importance has been strengthened. Law-enforcement bodies leaders have been given a special orders to prevent possible confusion.

According to the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," in the present conditions the president's powers must be transferred to the prime minister. The newspaper recalls that after the referendum last August on the amendments to the Constitution, in a case where the president is in no position to fulfill his duties, his authorities are transferred not to the parliament speaker as before but to the prime minister.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Ekho" writes that to date two people have died and more than 20,000 have incurred damages as a result of flooding of the Kur River. The independent newspaper "525" cites tPrime Minister Artur Rasizade as saying that "if necessity dictates" the government will consider compensating flood victims. More severe floods are expected next month. Rasizade noted that there is nothing to be concerned about regarding the Mingechevir and Shamkir reservoirs, as they can hold more than two billion cubic meters of water.

The same newspaper writes that Defense Minister Safar Abiev will send 150 Azerbaijani peacekeepers to Iraq. The minister noted that it will attempt to station these soldiers in Mosul, Kerkuk and Karbala. But Elkhan Shahinoglu in the article "Heydar Aliyev has made his choice. There is no way back" in the newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the sending of Azerbaijani military personnel to Iraq is in Azerbaijani national interests. "According to Safar Abiev, our soldiers will be engaged in restoring sacred sites in Karbala, as well as introducing order in Kerkuk and Mosul." Nevertheless, Shahinoglu notes that Azerbaijani soldiers could face difficulties during fulfilling their duties. "Shiites protesting against the existence of American forces in Karbala are gathering in mosques, which are to be protected by Azerbaijani soldiers. But the situation in Kerkuk and Mosul is confused."

"Ganja has been so ruined that even if someone came from the United States, the town would not get better." This article devoted to Ganja has been published in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta." The author writes about the activities of the new head of the executive power and the population's despair.

Azerbaijani newspapers also drew attention to the processes in Azerbaijan related to the upcoming presidential elections and the debates over the government's draft election code, as well as interviews with presidential candidates. For example, according to the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan," the opposition is losing its entire social base. "And there is no need for shows regarding the draft election code."

The governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes that opposition leaders are becoming disabled, one by one.

In an interview with the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman," former president Ayaz Mutallibov said that he will return to Azerbaijan and participate in the fall presidential ballot.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)