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Azerbaijan Report: July 27, 2003

27 July 2003
U.S. Again Warns Azerbaijan over Harassment of Candidates
The U.S. State Department has expressed once again concern about the course of the election process in Azerbaijan. "[The U.S. government] are troubled by recent events, such as the denial of candidates' registrations and the arrests of individuals associated with certain candidates. Both seem to be driven by a desire to harass opposition candidates," said State Department spokeswoman Joanne Prokopowicz.

Commenting on the U.S. State Department's latest statement, parliament deputy Aidin Mirzazade, a member of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP) Political Council, said that the United States' attention to the processes taking place in an allied country is a "welcome case, but unfortunately, this attention is often based on incorrect information." Mirzazade noted that the refusal to register Ayaz Mutallibov, Rasul Guliev and others as presidential candidates resulted not from the government's "proposal" to the Central Election Commission, but from the demands of the law. He recalled that the Central Election Commission has registered such opposition leaders as Isa Gambar and Ali Kerimli. If the government had discriminated against the opposition, then these leaders would also have been barred from the election process.

Fuad Agaev of the opposition National Independence Party (AMIP) said that such reactions on the part of Washington will not remain without response. The government cannot stand up to the United States and Western countries. He noted that should no sudden obstacle appear, the public will witness some concessions on the issues raised in the State Department's statement. Agaev pointed out that election registration-related problems are not over and called for changing illegal provisions in the election code in order to restore public confidence that the elections will be free and fair.

(Babek Bekir)

Opposition Calls On Government To Provide Information On President's Health
The Opposition Coordination Center has decided to call on the parliament and the presidential administration to provide constant information about President Heydar Aliev's state of health. The parties also appealed to the people. "Rumors surrounding President Aliev's state of health have resulted in fear and uncertainty within various groups in society," the statement read, adding: "If the head of state cannot meet his constitutional duties, the Opposition Coordination Center is prepared, along with other sound forces in the opposition and government, within the framework of the Constitution, to assume political responsibility for processes in the country and ensure the course of events."

At a 24 July meeting, the parties aligned in the Opposition Coordination Center also discussed issues regarding the registration of presidential candidates and formation of election commissions. The parties assessed the Central Election Commission's refusal to register Democratic Party chairman Rasul Guliev and Civil Unity Party chairman Ayaz Mutallibov as an attempt by the government attempt to leave some of its political opponents outside the election marathon. The center decided to appeal to international institutions to promote the registration of these candidates. The oppositionists also intend to appeal to the Constitutional Court and demand a change of the Central Election Commission's leadership and members.

Moreover, the Opposition Coordination Center is going to hold a rally on 2 August to protest obstacles to the registration of candidates and police interference in the opposition leaders' freedom of movement, as well as the arrest of their supporters.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Government Blocks Former President's Candidacy
"We consider the Central Election Commission's refusal to register Ayaz Mutallibov as a presidential candidate as a political order from above," said Faig Bakhshaliev, representative of a group of voters called "Khilaskar," or Liberator, which has nominated ex-president Mutallibov for the presidential elections. On 21 July the Central Election Commission blocked the registration of Mutallibov's candidacy on the grounds that "documents were not submitted in the form and timeframe that is in accordance with the law."

At a press conference on 22, July BakhshAliyev stated that the commission's pro-governmental members pose artificial obstacles to Mutallibov's registration, demanding additional papers that are not mentioned in the law. BakhshAliyev also denied the allegation by commission member Ingilab Nasirov that Mutallibov has double citizenship. He showed media representatives a copy of Mutallibov's refugee card, which reads that he is a citizen of Azerbaijan.

Mutallibov, who has been living in Russia since 1992, was granted this card in 1999 and at present has refugee status in Russia. Azerbaijan's government accuses him of criminal negligence in connection with an Armenian attack on Khojaly in 1992, when hundreds of Azerbaijanis were killed. He is also suspected of involvement in an alleged coup d'etat in 2001.

Film director Abdul Mahmudbeyov, another Mutallibov supporter, said that the "Khilaskar" group will file a complaint at the Appeals Court about the Central Election Commission's decision.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Local newspapers focused on the state of health of President Heydar Aliev, who is now undergoing medical treatment at Turkey's Gulhane Medical Academy. Pro-governmental and official newspapers deny allegations in the independent and opposition press that the president's health condition has worsened.

The governmental newspapers "Azerbaycan" and "Khalg," as well as the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" gave detailed coverage of the press conference of Mammed Aliev, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Turkey, during which the ambassador criticized Turkey's "Star" television channel for spreading misinformation about the president's health. The ambassador affirmed that the president is well.

Namig in an article entitled "The government is faced with international pressure" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," writes that international institutions are issuing increasingly sharp statements regarding the upcoming presidential elections in October. International organizations, which until recently demonstrated an indifferent attitude toward the election problem, are now more critical of the government's political arbitrariness, the paper writes. It is enough to recall statements made by the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the U.S. State Department. It is interesting to note that international organizations' reactions to political despotism have become more severe during the last week or two. Namig notes that the increasingly tough demands for democratization are linked with other significant issues. There is no doubt that President Aliev's death would create a new socio-political situation in the country, which qualitatively differs from the current one. During this period, which will be accompanied by increased political activism, the ruling team could increase repressions against the opposition and democratic institutions in order to keep the people in order. The first signs of such activities are already evident today.

Commenting on the pre-election situation, political scientist Zardusht Alizade said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" that since the government's chief candidate, President Aliev, will not participate in the elections, the ruling elite should immediately announce another candidate instead of the president. Alizade said that Ilham Aliev's chances in the election are nil, adding that should he become president, the country would slide into collapse. Alizade noted that the ruling elite has two candidates, one of whom is now most engaged with his own health problems. The other, Ilham Aliev, can do nothing without his father's support. At present the ruling team has two ways to strengthen its position. It must support either Justice Party chairman Ilias Ismailov or Azerbaijan Democratic Party chairman Rasul Guliev. Touching on the future of the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, Alizade suggested that first of all it would lose its aggressiveness. On the other hand, it is expected to become enmeshed in divisions and dissent, in the same way as the Popular Front.

Rufet Ahmed in the article "The Opposition Coordination Center is collapsing" in the pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" points out that information about the collapse of the Opposition Coordination Center is becoming serious. After People Party chairman Panah Huseinov compared the organization with a piece of paper, the silence within the coordination center has been broken. Current events have accelerated processes directed at clarifying relations within the opposition. But at present the opposition leaders are working on a new format of cooperation and drawing the contours of a new organization. The National Independence Party's position on the matter has already been resolved. According to party activist Meherrem Zulfugarli, a change in the Opposition Coordination Center's format is possible. He said that since the center covers the inter-party cooperation for a certain period, it will probably finish its mission in the near future.

In an article entitled "Attracting our citizens living abroad to [participate in] the elections" in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," Javid writes that "one of the main issues on the agenda is to increase the activity of our citizens who are now living outside the country in the elections and increase campaigning among them." But despite the urgency of this issue candidates from both the government and opposition remain indifferent. According to the author, unlike the opposition circles, the government's candidates have partly succeeded in establishing cooperation with the Azerbaijani diaspora in Russia. According to both local and foreign experts, a number of conditions are needed for fair and democratic elections, "one of which is ensuring voting rights of our compatriots living abroad and organizing poling stations in areas where they are concentrated." The author also notes that Azerbaijanis living abroad are not seriously engaged in politics. Their activities amount to nothing more than the creation of friendly organizations or societies.

Galib Arif in the article "Dirty press" in the newspaper "Khalg" notes that as the presidential elections approach, opposition media outlets are seeking to sully the country's international reputation, which would lead to having sanctions issued against it. The author writes that the "dirty press" is the means, but the motivating force is newspapers' owners. No person, not even a party leader, is able to simultaneously own several newspapers and allocate funds for their publication. According to international organizations' calculations, at present only 6 percent of the country's population reads newspapers. Since local entrepreneurs and farmers have recently moved into the development stage, the advertising market in the country is not rich enough either. So the maintenance of the "dirty press" requires large amounts of money.

Zabil in the article "Which institution can the settlement of the Karabakh problem be entrusted to?" in the pro-governmental newspaper "525" writes that the Armenian violation of the cease-fire has further increased Azerbaijan's discontent about the activities of the OSCE Minsk Group, which is mediating in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. Baku finally stated that international organizations were also responsible for the cease-fire violaations by Armenia. Foreign Minister Vilaet Guliev said that Baku is disappointed with the inaction of the OSCE, which cannot prevent the regular breaches of the cease-fire, adding that Baku could give preference to the mediation of other international organizations. Zabil notes that the country's population has always been displeased with the OSCE Minsk Group's activities. Various groups of the populations have even suggested the government renounce the Minsk Group's mediation. But the author quotes conflictologist Arif Yunus as saying that since a special organization the OSCE Minsk Group is engaged in seeking the solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem, other international institutions will not take on this mission. Therefore "we must push the OSCE Minsk Group to do better."

Mahir Hamzeoglu in the article "The Ministry of Finance will make inspections" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that the Ministry of Finance is going to conduct inspections in a number of budget institutions, especially in large state departments, within a year. To date such inspections have been carried out in many state organizations. But despite certain shortcomings, serious financial violations have not been revealed. It turned out that "in a country enveloped in corruption everybody works transparently." Hamzeoglu notes that according to unconfirmed information, some officials have been relieved of their post as a result of financial inspections in some districts.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Orkhan Kerimov, president of the Economic Development Association, said that the increase in the illegal outflow of currency from the country during the last few months indicates that confidence in the current government's fate is diminishing. "As the signs of political hopelessness become more apparent, such operations also increase. At such a time Azerbaijan's state institutions must realize their responsibilities, since the outflow of large amounts of funds could undermine macroeconomic stability in the country. The removal of dollars from the internal market could lead to a rapid increase in its exchange rate and thus also in inflation."

Konul Alieva in the article "The 'Gazelli' company belongs to the wives of Ilham Aliyev and Jahangir Alesgerov" in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" points out that like high-ranking officials in President Aliev's team who control most spheres of the country's economy, their wives are also establishing a monopoly over separate sectors. The "Gazelli" company, which has monopolized the perfume market belongs to Mehriban Alieva, the president�s son�s wife, and the wife of Jahangir Alesgerov, head of the "AZAL" State Air Company. The author also emphasizes that thanks to "Gazelli," which is in full control of importing perfumes, prices have gone up.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)