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Azerbaijan Report: October 27, 2003

27 October 2003
Isa Gambar Calls Supporters For Civil Struggle
"All protests must be held within the framework of the country's laws, without resorting to violence," said Musavat chairman Isa Gambar at a 17 October meeting with media representatives. Gambar called on his supporters to act responsibly, while fighting for their votes. At the same time, he also invited the government to act responsibly and not to create artificial tension and riots.

Gambar noted that at present the authorities have limited Musavat's activities. According to him, the party's headquarters have been emptied; publication of the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" and the magazine of the same name has been banned.

(Babek Bekir)

International And Local Observers Discord Over Election Results
At a 17 October press conference, a group of 188 observers from central and Eastern Europe, representing the OSCE at the presidential elections, disagreed with the preliminary conclusion of Peter Eicher, head of the OSCE Election Observation Mission. According to them, Eicher downplayed the fraud observed during the vote. and the 15 October elections fell short of the democratic election principles.

Commenting on the contradictions among European observers, Eicher told RFE/RL that their statement is an official one which has been prepared on basis of information provided by some 600 observers. "Of course, everybody can have his or her own opinion as well. But we expressed the OSCE official position."

A number of local observers also accuse the authorities of resorting to vote rigging. "The presidential elections were accompanied by numerous irregularities and falsifications," according to For Free and Fair Elections, an organization uniting non-governmental, political and international organizations.

At a 20 October press conference, Arzu Abdullaeva, the director of Helsinki Citizens Assembly Azerbaijan National Committee, said that the vote was marred by massive irregularities that call into question its fairness. Professor Eldar Ismailov pointed to the exclusion of observers from polling stations during the vote-counting process.

(Kabiran Dilaverli)

Human Rights Watchdog Expresses Concern About Post-Election Atmosphere
The 16 October violence in Baku between opposition supporters and police has sparked arrests of Musavat and other opposition activists throughout the country. While some of those arrested have been released, most of them have been sentenced to short-term imprisonment.

Meanwhile, according to Rauf Arifoglu, editor-in-chief of the opposition "Yeni Musavat," the state-owned publishing house on 17 October refused to print the newspaper. But the newspaper is now being printed at another publishing house. "But we have information that the newspaper is being removed from sale," Arifoglu said.

On 16 and 17 October Reporters Without Borders issued statements regarding the government's alleged violence against media representatives during the presidential elections and subsequent protests.

"We are very alarmed by the surge of violence against journalists and we remind you that free press coverage of an election is one of the criteria considered by the international community before recognizing its legitimacy," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert M�nard said in a letter to Interior Minister Ramil Usubov. According to information gathered by Reporters Without Borders, at least 25 local and foreign journalists were badly beaten by the security forces during the opposition demonstration in Baku. Several had to be hospitalized. "Meanwhile, unidentified men in civilian dress confiscated more than 20,000 copies of opposition newspapers from news stands in several cities. Copies were also taken from street vendors," Reporters Without Borders concludes.

(Maarif Chingizoglu and Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Vote Results Cancelled In 694 Polling Stations
In the light of complaints regarding the 15 October presidential elections, the Central Election Commission has annuled the election results at 694 polling stations, which embrace 115 constituencies. There are 5,129 polling stations throughout the country and the cancellation of the results in 694 of them cannot have a negative influence on the election overall results. Under the Election Code, the election can be considered invalid, if the vote results are annulled in 40 percent of polling stations.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

Opposition Refutes Official Number Of Arrested
"To date 1,500 people have been detained, 500 are wanted and 30 are missing" in the wake of the 15 October presidential election, according to the Committee against Election Falsification and Repressions. According to the committee, repression is continuing and those arrested are subjected to torture and deprived of food.

Ehsan Zahidov of the Interior Ministry Press Service denied the committee's allegations. He said 196 people have been arrested to date.

(Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Opposition Leaders Endorse Dialogue With Government
"The continuation of the confrontation could lead to grave consequences," said Etibar Mamedov, chairman of the opposition National Independence Party (AMIP) at a 22 October news conference, supporting the idea of dialogue with the government. He expressed his readiness to take effective steps in this direction. Commenting on the ongoing arrests of opposition activists, Mamedov said that by imprisoning and harassing the opposition, local authorities force them to change their political affiliations.

Meanwhile, former President Ayaz Mutallibov, co-chairman of the opposition Social Democrat Party (ASDP) now living in exile in Russia, also expressed his willingness for a dialogue with the authorities for the sake of national conciliation and reaching a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Political scientist Eldar Namazov suggested that, considering that the confrontation in the society has reached a peak, such a step is critical for softening the situation. According to Namazov, there are no obstacles to such a dialogue.

Mubariz Gurbanli, deputy secretary-general of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, welcomed the opposition's positive approach to Prime Minister Ilham Aliev's proposal to begin a dialogue. But he added that before this dialoguecan get underway, the opposition must accept the official vote results and recognize Ilham Aliyev as president-elect.

(Babek Bekir and Shahnaz Beilergizi)