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Azerbaijan Report: September 26, 2003

26 September 2003
Election Commission Releases Statement On 21 September Clashes
Meetings of opposition presidential candidates Etibar Mamedov and Isa Gambar were held with voters in Baku, Masalli, and Lenkoran on 21 September. These meetings were accompanied by illegal activities. In response, the Central Election Commission released a statement on 24 September that reads, "Certain presidential candidates and parties are allowing illegal activities to occur during the election campaign."

"According to reports from the Ministry of Internal Affairs and appropriate constituencies," continues the statement, "on 21 September, the National Independence (AMIP) and People's Front (AXCP) parties took a large number of people from Baku to the Masalli district for a publicity campaign and held an unsanctioned rally using loudspeakers. The participants of the protest ignored demands made by the police and reacted aggressively to the local population, insulting them, as well as trying to cause clashes. The protesters also called on the local inhabitants for civil disobedience and the overthrow of state institutions."

The commission suggested that in order to ensure a legal publicity campaign, constituency heads must participate in holding and preparing such events. The commission stated that the presidential candidates must comply with the Election Code rules and not resort to appeals and acts of popularizing civil disobedience against state organizations and violating internal socio-political stability.

The statement caused heated debates among commission members. AXCP Chairman Ali Kerimli said: "There were assaults on the presidential candidates in Masalli. The allegations that the protesters used loudspeakers, as well as conducted illegal actions, is slanderous." Commission Secretary Vidadi Mahmudlu, for his part, pointed out that the police did not fulfill their duties during these assaults. As a result, some people were wounded and hospitalized. Mahmudlu added that the commission is not able to issue a statement as an investigation agency and that the commission should appeal to law-enforcement agencies to treat citizens with greater consideration rather than ask for a statement regarding the matter.

But commission Deputy Chairwoman Svetlana Gasimova noted that the commission was late in making this statement, since it ought to have long ago assessed the appeals regarding illegal actions made by certain candidates and parties. Appeals related to these incidents were sent to the Prosecutor-General's Office in order for relevant measures to be taken after the investigations.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Under the headline "Ilham Aliev's Gay History," the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" claims that Ilham Aliyev was a gambler and a member of the Moscow club for homosexuals until 1993.

The pro-government newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" analyzes Prime Minister Ilham Aliev's participation in the 58th UN General Assembly, as well as his visits to foreign countries. Natig Mamedli notes that Aliyev paid his first visit to the United States as prime minister. During his meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage the parties discussed the strategically important issues regarding energy security, the upcoming presidential elections in Azerbaijan, and the development of democracy. This, Mamedli writes, originates from the United States' confidence in Aliev's person and prospects. The author also suggests that Turkey's treatment of the pre-election processes in Azerbaijan is based on its own national interests. Despite some peoples' illusions, the Turkish officials realize that Ilham Aliev's appointment signifies the continuation of Heidar Aliev's policy. Touching on the prime minister's participation in the UN General Assembly, Mamedli writes that it is possible to draw serious conclusions from Ilham Aliev's meetings with the U.S. president, the secretary of state, and other officials. Of course, these conclusions must be drawn by those who claim to be political opponents.

In an interview with the pro-governmental newspaper "525," parliament deputy and presidential candidate Sabir Rustemkhanli says that state and religion depend on one another, and that it is difficult to preserve religion, which is not protected by the state. Azerbaijan is an Islamic country and the Azerbaijani model of Islam must be built here. Rustemkhanli adds that unlike other Islamic countries, there are no serious contradictions between Shiites and Sunnis in Azerbaijan. "That means we have a special approach to religion," he concludes.

Kerim Kerimov, head of the parliamentary commission on discipline, in an interview with the independent newspaper "Uch Nogta," criticizes the Azerbaijani opposition, referring to them as "uncivilized." "We need an opposition that will promote development," he says. "It is natural for there to be certain shortcomings in today's government and administration, and there are." One of the chief reasons why today's struggle has taken on unethical qualities is that the opposition has nothing to say and no arguments, Kerimov concludes.

Malik Mamedov, in an article entitled "Azerbaijan Is Turning Into A Grave The Size Of A Nation" in the opposition newspaper "Baki-Kheber," writes that one of the most discussed problems in Europe today is the increase in population. But Azerbaijan faces the opposite problem -- infant mortality. In the opposition newspaper, the author recalls that Azerbaijan has been a member of the UN Convention on the Protection of Children's Rights since 1992. But as a result of the government's useless and indifferent policy, at present, the convention's demands are not fulfilled properly. Mamedov quotes an unnamed source, noting that during the past few years, the number of births in the country has decreased by 7,183. As for the violations of mothers' rights, the author suggests that because of hard living conditions, parents are forced to feed their children with inexpensive and low-quality baby food. Of course, a child fed with food lacking nutrition cannot be healthy.

In the article "Child Trafficking" published in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet," Samire Ahmedli writes that "according to UNESCO's most recent annual report, tens of thousands of children throughout the world are trafficked annually." As for Azerbaijan specifically, Ahmedli notes that child trafficking is carried out by medical staff. At different times, maternity-hospital employees have had a hand in this. Their names have been mentioned frequently enough in lawsuits, but none of the people who acted as brokers in the "business" were punished properly. According to the author, what is most horrible is that mothers themselves sometimes deliver their infants to traffickers. For example, Hemail Gulieva, the mother of seven children, sold her eighth infant for $700; Shukufe Ismailova, a mother of five, for her part states that she also sold her infant at the same price due to destitution. Ahmedli points out that after a long period, child trafficking has officially begun to be considered as a crime.

In the article "A Move Toward NATO" published in the independent newspaper "Ayna," Jesur Mamedov points out that today Azerbaijan is taking an active part in the NATO's Partnership for Peace program. As for the country's integration into NATO, the author cites Colonel Rufet Amirov, chairman of the "Manevr" military science society, as saying that given the country's current military budget, the complete application of NATO standards seems unrealistic. Adapting certain kinds of armament and combat principles to meet the alliance's standards requires a certain preparatory period. The author writes that although NATO standards are now considered to be priorities in the country's army, in fact, some problems remain unsolved. According to military experts, the current Azerbaijani Army follows NATO regulations and has the appropriate communication systems, but weapons and equipment come entirely from Soviet production. In this context, the full transition to NATO standards demands huge funds, which is beyond the ability of the country's $145 million military budget. Mamedov suggests that in the near future an increase in the country's defense expenses will be inevitable.

Under the headline "Azerbaijan's Customs Institution Has Quickly Turned Into The Country's Chief Economic Bulwark," the government newspaper "Azerbaycan" states that while 10 years ago the State Customs Committee paid 17.5 billion manats ($3.8 million) to the national budget, this year it is expected to contribute 1.2 trillion manats ($258 million).

Mahir Hamzeoglu in the article "Is The Poverty Level In Rural Areas Low?" in the independent newspaper "Khalg Jebhesi" points out that according to expert observations and poll results, children in Azerbaijan are more vulnerable to poverty than adults. In families with three or more children, the risk of poverty is considered to be high. The government suggests that the level of poverty in rural areas is lower in comparison with towns. Allegedly, thanks to land reforms, the rural population is able to live normally. Nevertheless, the government admits the weak development of infrastructure in districts. Hamzeoglu notes that about 1 million refugees and internally displaced people are classified as living in poverty. The government plans to improve their living conditions first.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)