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Azerbaijan Report: August 27, 2003

27 August 2003
Human Rights Groups Protest Biased Election Campaign
"The principle of equality is being violated in the course of the election campaign, especially in the provinces where local executive bodies pursue opposition representatives. The opposition is being prevented from spreading any means of propaganda," said Novella Jafarova, chairwoman of the Dilara Alieva Association for the Protection of Women's Rights, at a 22 August press conference held by the human rights organization monitoring group, regarding the path of the presidential elections campaign.

According to Jafarova, although the propaganda posters of two presidential candidates -- President Heidar Aliyev and his son Ilham -- are displayed throughout the country, candidates from the opposition are not allowed to do the same. She claimed that the authorities have warned both public and private property owners against displaying opposition propaganda posters. She also added that authorities have threatened those who do not comply.

The leaders of the Azerbaijan National Committee of the Helsinki Citizens' Assembly, the Human Rights and Legality Protection Committee and other organizations have complained of the one-sided propaganda of Heidar Aliyev and his son, especially in electronic media.

The monitoring group also issued a statement on the latest results of the election campaign. The document points to the undemocratic pre-election situation in the country, adding that equal conditions have not been created for all candidates to make themselves known to voters. The statement also reads that local government officials are participating in the campaign of President Aliyev and his son Ilham Aliev.

(Natig Zeinalov)

Results Of Study Raise Concerns About Lack Of Drug Awareness
According to the results of the first epidemiological inquiry conducted in Azerbaijan under the UN South Caucasus Drugs Control Program, the number of people addicted to drugs has reached 100,000 of whom 70 percent are male. Mezahir Efendiev, the national coordinator for the South Caucasus Control Program for Drugs, pointed out at a press conference that the results of the inquiry cast doubt on the official statistics.

The inquiry, which covered 2,000 individuals, was conducted in Baku and Lenkoran. The report revealed an increase in drug addiction among women, and that drug addicts in Azerbaijan are becoming progressively younger. Results show that the most common age group that addicts fall into is 16-24. Five percent of drug addicts are students at secondary schools, while 19 percent attend higher-educational institutions.

It was obvious from the results of the interviews that 90 percent of the people questioned are unaware of the dangers of addiction or heath risks caused by using drugs, including a higher risk of exposure to illnesses such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis.

Efendiev also complained about the lack of qualified specialists needed to strengthen the campaign against drugs, and to help provide knowledge and awareness about drug addiction in the country.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Local newspapers have been focusing on debates that were held in London between four of the opposition leaders from Azerbaijan regarding the possibility of a "common candidate" to represent opposition parties in the upcoming presidential election.

In the article "Alliance instead of a common candidate" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Aly Rza points out that during the past few days certain groups of the population who are dissatisfied with the country's current government were focussing their attention on the debate in London. The main focus of interest was whether a common candidate would be chosen. However, the opposition leaders were unable to reach an agreement. According to Rza, the selection of a common candidate among the opposition would have been useful in preventing falsification in the elections. A common candidate would not have meant an automatic alliance of the four opposition forces, but an alliance holding a strong psychological advantage in the battle of those discontented with the government. But unfortunately, the opportunity to create such an advantage has been missed.

Ali Kerimli, head of the People's Front Party (AXCP), said in an interview with the independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" that "For some time I have been proposing to the opposition to unite around a common candidate and create a platform. And four opposition parties have begun to discuss this matter jointly. As a result, personal ambitions have been put aside, abetting discussions. And it is possible to hope that these parties will come to a common decision." Kerimli admitted the lack of an agreement on the common candidate issue, but added that the leaders could return to the discussion table in the next stages of the election campaign.

Under the headline "The purpose of the opposition is to escalate the pre-election situation," the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that the approaching presidential election has caused serious political disputes among the opposition. The opposition leaders, who met two days ago in London with the aim of solving the common candidate issue, had to return without reaching a concrete decision. Elshad Miralem, the article's author, suggested that each of the opposition parties had its own candidate and did not make concessions to the others regarding this matter. According to him, this is, of course, linked not only with political interests, but also with psychological discomfort, which has been observed for a long time in the opposition camp. These people, whose ambitions far exceed their real political opportunities, perceive a concession in the common candidate theme as the end of their political existence.

Mamedli in an article entitled "Baku seems to be governed well from Cleveland..." in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" emphasizes that President Heidar Aliyev has been abroad for some months, adding that he has begun to eliminate his health problems by seeking medical treatment first in Gulhane and then in Cleveland. Although some opposition parties have been spreading negative propaganda regarding the situation, Ilham Aliyev brings good news. The author recalls the summer of 1993, when the president in power, Abulfaz Elchibey, left Baku for the village of Keleki, Nakhichevan. "Although the late president repeatedly pointed to the possibility of governing Baku from Keleki, the parliamentarians disliked the idea." Mamedli, in reference to decrees and instructions issued by President Aliyev during his absence from Baku, writes that at the moment, despite being in Cleveland, the president is governing Baku well from the other side of the Atlantic, against the opposition.

In an interview with the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Central Election Commission secretary Vidadi Mahmudlu noted that there are enough forces to ensure free and democratic elections in the country, regardless of the current violations and overwhelming propaganda from the ruling party. For this reason, political parties and registered candidates, as well as those involved in political campaigns, must step up their activities in the context of the law.

In the article "Does the government have an election platform?" published in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi," Behmen Faziloglu notes that the establishment of election relations, as well as the process of conducting election campaigns in the country has not evolved since the Soviet period. In most cases, the methods used and experience relied upon during the propaganda campaign stem from the Soviet era. For example, the government's current anti-opposition campaign does not differ from the previous one they utilized in the last presidential election. The government, which mainly uses available administrative means, does not even hesitate to remove the opposition's election posters. Moreover, if opposition candidates' pictures are placed in shops or on buses, the owners face pressure and harassment from local authorities. According to Faziloglu, the events of 1998 are repeating themselves now. There is an impression that the numerous concerts staged in various towns to serve the campaigning candidates from the government are aimed at diverting voters' attention from the main issues, especially a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem. In addition, the country's economic problems remain to be solved. Despite official statements regarding an improvement in the population's social wellbeing, there is no an evidence from the government that a concrete program is being implemented to deliver the country from economic problems.

The pro-government newspaper "525" cites Khanlar Hajiev, the first Azerbaijani judge appointed to the European Court for Human Rights, as saying that the European Human Rights Convention and complementary protocols to it do not contain clauses regarding presidential elections. Therefore, the European Court will not consider complaints about the results of the presidential elections scheduled for 15 October.

In the article "Can a model of the Kosovo situation be applied to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem?" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman," Zhale Sabirgizi writes that the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairmen are now suggesting using Kosovo as a model to solving the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Under this model, Nagorno-Karabakh would be declared an uncontrolled zone and international peacekeeping forces would be sent to the region. According to recent reports, Washington, which intends to solve the Nagorno-Karabakh problem as soon as possible, is seeking to take the procedure out of the Minsk Group's "monopoly" and to involve the UN and the OSCE in the negotiation processes in addition to internationalizing a solution to the problem. The United States has even conducted appropriate negations and reached agreement with the Minsk Group's other co-chairmen in connection with its plan. Washington wants to transfer the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh's status to competence of international organizations with the goal of stationing international peacekeeping forces in the region and thus placing Nagorno-Karabakh under the jurisdiction of the OSCE or the U.N. In this case, Azerbaijan would permanently lose all opportunities to interfere in the processes taking place in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Farid, in an article entitled "A fund will be created to ensure bank savings" published in the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta" notes that despite results from a policy pursued by the National Bank during the last eight years, it was not able to achieve radical changes from bank deposit returns. Farid writes that the majority of banks, dissatisfied with the National Bank's policies, have ceased their activities or have been forced to merge with other banks. Although the government, along with the National Bank, has tried to take some effective measures, it could not come to a common solution. The author writes that there are many reasons for this, the first one being the enormous volume of lost savings, which amounts to one trillion manats or $2 billion. The number of citizens who lost their savings in banks is some 4 million. Farid points to the government's limited opportunities to return this money and adds that at present the government is making serious changes in legislation to get out of this tight spot and prevent similar disasters in the future.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)