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Azerbaijan Report: November 24, 2003

24 November 2003
Experts Warn About Possible Negative Assessment of the Post-Election Situation
Last week a three-member delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), headed by Andreas Gross, paid a visit to Baku to get acquainted with the state of human rights and democratic institutions in the post-election period. The delegation is scheduled to report about the situation to the PACE bureau on 25 November.

On 17 November the delegation met with the opposition People's Front (AXCP), National Independence (AMIP), and Musavat parties, as well as human rights organizations. AXCP Chairman Ali Kerimli said that during the meeting he informed the Council of Europe delegates about the election irregularities, the post-election pressure on the opposition, and the mass arrests and problems the opposition press faces at present.

The presidential elections were also discussed during the European parliamentarians' meeting with parliament speaker Murtuz Alesgerov. Alesgerov noted that if the opposition refuses dialogue with the government, it will become superannuated.

Andreas Gross, the PACE co-rapporteur on Azerbaijan, stressed that the delegation brought a package of proposals that will regulate the PACE relationship with Baku and which will be forwarded to President Ilham Aliyev. These documents were prepared in order to prevent a negative decision on Azerbaijan at the PACE winter session.

Interior Minister Ramil Usubov informed the PACE delegation about the 15-16 October unrest in Baku and post-election developments, noting that an investigation revealed that the riots were staged by the leadership of the opposition Musavat and Democratic parties. The organizers and "instigators," as well as active participants of these events will be brought to trial, Usubov said.

During his visit to Baku last week, Christian Strohal, head of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, in his turn, called on the Azerbaijani authorities to set up a commission to investigate the 15 October presidential elections and riots following the vote. Strohal met with presidential administration head Ramiz Mehdiev, Foreign Minister Vilayat Guliev and Interior Minister Usubov.

Neither the PACE delegation nor Strohal met with President Ilham Aliyev. Strohal refused to comment on the reasons why, advising journalists to ask the president himself why he did not schedule a meeting with him. Local experts find it difficult to explain President Aliyev's reluctance to receive representatives of international organizations, which they say is unprecedented. They point out that ex-president Heidar Aliyev always attached special significance and attention to meeting with foreign guests.

Zafar Guliev, an expert of the Turan news agency, attributed Ilham Aliyev's disinclination to meet with foreign officials to the weakness of the new leadership. This behavior reveals the dependence of Ilham Aliyev, Guliev said. He drew attention to the fact that international delegates are usually received by the presidential administration head Ramiz Mehdiev. According to Guliev, Mehdiev is a key figure in the leadership and appears to dictate his will in principal issues.

Expert Rauf Mirgadirov interpreted the president's behavior as reflecting his uncertainty. Ilham Aliyev is not prepared for talks and therefore avoids meetings with international delegates, Mirgadirov added.

According to experts, whatever the reason for President Aliyev's behaviour, his treatment of international envoys does not bode well for the new government, especially prior to the upcoming debates about the presidential election at the PACE winter session. Such behaviour risks incurring the imposition of sanctions against Azerbaijan, Guliev said.

But Mirgadirov expressed confidence that the Council of Europe will not go so far, but will content itself with criticising Baku. But he did not rule out the possibility that the Azeri delegation at PACE could be deprived of the right of vote. That in itself would be a serious blow to the country's image and create conditions for some foreign countries to talk to Baku in the "language of ultimatums," and put forward their demands. And these demands could be related with the settlement of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as well, Mirgadirov concluded.

(Natig Zeinalov and Shahnaz Beilergizi)

Opposition Press Accuse Government of Strangling Freedom of Speech
Last week a number of leading opposition newspapers had to suspend publication due to a shortage of newsprint. But the editors in chief of opposition publications suggest that at the heart of the problem lie the government's attempts to strangle the free press. They argue that the government monopoly on the import of newsprint should be abolished.

Nevertheless, according to Press Council head Aflatun Amashov, it is difficult to unambiguously suggest whether the shortage is of a political or economic nature. The matter requires a comprehensive investigation.

On 19 November all opposition newspapers resumed publication. The private publishing house which prints these newspapers has bought 20 tons of newsprint paper from neighboring Georgia. But as this quantity will last only for 10 days, it is impossible to consider the newsprint problem resolved, according to Ganimet Zahidov, editor in chief of the opposition newspaper "Azadlig."

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

U.S. Intends to Expand Military Cooperation with Baku
"The United States intends to render military assistance to Azerbaijan shortly. This assistance will be of regional importance and contribute to the security of the Caspian basin," said the chief of the U.S. European Command, Charles Wald, during his 21 November meeting with President Ilham Aliyev. Wald underlined that "the assistance would make it possible to control the water surface, seabed, and air space in the Azeri sector of the Caspian Sea."

The U.S. general stressed his country's willingness to raise military cooperation with Azerbaijan to the highest level. He gave a high assessment to Baku's active participation in the struggle against international terrorism and in peacekeeping operations in Balkans, Afghanistan, and Iraq.

(Rovshen Ganbarov)

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)