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Azerbaijan Report: February 19, 2002

19 February 2002
Azerbaijani President Says No Grounds For Concern Over His Health
Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev insisted in a national television address on 19 February that he is in good health after prostate surgery in the United States and will return home within days.

"I know that you are worried to some degree. There is no basis for that," he said on state AzTV television from Cleveland, Ohio, where he underwent surgery on 14 February. "The current state of my health is better than before, and in several days I'll be back home," said Aliev, looking, according to agency reports, pale but overall well.

Aliev's prostate operation, in the same Cleveland clinic where he had heart bypass surgery in 1999, was kept secret until after it was completed. Aides said it was successful.

Azerbaijani Youth Staged Protest Action
The youth organisations of the National Reliance, Democrat, National Democrat and Liberal Parties staged a protest action on 16 February in front of the Constitutional Court demanding the president's resignation. The organizations had informed the Baku municipal authorities in writing of the action, but the latter objected to all the routes they had proposed. The Baku mayor's office suggested that the organizations stage the protest in front of the Galaba cinema, but they insisted on holding it on Youth Square. The law enforcement bodies saw that they would not be able to prevent the action and began arresting participants early in the morning. Some members of the meeting committee were arrested in the morning but were later released. Police officers also monitored the meeting place. The demonstrators moved towards the square and began demanding the president's resignation. Even though the police stopped them a number of times, they continued the protest action.

The meeting lasted for 15 minutes. Afterwards, persons in civilian clothes began arresting the picketers. But it did not result in disruption of the meeting, on the contrary, the women and girls taking part in the action harshly reacted to it. A 45-year old was brutally bitten by police officers. Deputy Head of the Baku Chief Police Department Yashar Aliyev said that they had instructed the police officers not to use violence against the citizens, but the police had to defend themselves.

ADP Secretary Namig Ahadzadeh and editor-in -chief of the newspaper "Hurriyyet" Aydin Guliev were detained and taken to Sebayel police department. Guliev in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani service said that some 40 picketers were detained.

(Maarif Chingizoglu)

Azerbaijani Parliament Meets
The Azerbaijani parliament met on 19 February and discussed a number of issues. Chairman Murtuz Alasgarov said that on 16 February he had a telephone talk with Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev who is being treated in the Cleveland clinic. Aliyev enquired about the activity of the Azerbaijani parliament and gave relevant instructions.

After long debates, the parliament members decided to appeal to the European Court in connection with the 10th anniversary of the Khojaly genocide in order to have the criminals punished. They also suggested that the Azerbaijani officials who played a role in the instigation of the Karabakh conflict and who sacrificed state interests to their ambitious goals must also be punished. The parliament members referred to ex-president Ayaz Mutallibov, former chairman of the Central Committee Abdurrahman Vezirov and Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar.

The parliament deputies held a long debate over 21 February, which the UN has designated the International Day of Mother Language. Professor Nizami Jafarov stressed that a Bill on the Mother Language has been drafted on the president's orders and will be adopted in the second reading in the parliament. Professor Jafarov suggested developing the language of national minorities as well.

(Zerkhanim Akhmedli)

Azerbaijani newspapers differ in their opinions of the surgery performed on President Heidar Aliyev who is being treated now in the Cleveland clinic. President Aliyev addressed the Azerbaijani people on 18 February on republican television. The transcript of the address was reprinted on the front pages of the newspapers "Azerbaijan," "Khalg" and "Yeni Azerbaijan". The president noted that there is no need for concern regarding his health. He said life goes on in Azerbaijan and stability, peace and prosperity reign there, people go about their business and the second month of 2002 is proceeding successfully in Azerbaijan.

A number of opposition papers comment on the latest developments in the government.

Gabil Abbasoglu in an article entitled "The report from Cleveland" carried by the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" considers a politically serious material the remarks of the Azerbaijani president carried by the television. According to the author, the standpoint that "don't get concerned, there is no need for concern" expressed twice in the remarks show that the head of state is aware of developments in his team. The author notes that Aliyev is not concerned about the local opposition. It was felt from his speech as well. The author says that society had thought Aliyev was in a serious condition and that he could neither speak nor was he in a fit state to appear before TV cameras.

Elnur Maharramli in a commentary "The presidency and authorities" carried by the newspaper "Hurriyyet" compares the unexpected visit Azerbaijan's former president Abulfaz Elchibey once made to his home village Keleki with Aliev's prolonged delay in the U.S. The author recalls that in the morning after Elchibey's departure for Keleki, they claimed that it was impossible to govern the country from a remote mountainous village. Elchibey's absence in the capital for about a month resulted in his removal from the post. The author writes that such a situation has arisen again. The Azerbaijani president has been outside the country for 20 days. According to the author, Elchibey's opportunities to govern the state were greater than those of Aliev. Even though high-ranking officials try to prove that everything is normal, claiming that Aliyev feels like a teenager of 15 and governs the country without any problem.

"There can be no talks about a team to retain power in Heydar Aliev's absence, to guarantee the stability in the country and security for the governing family." This statement was taken from Hikmet Sabiroglu's article "There are some reformers..." carried by the newspaper "Azadlig". The author explains that neither the parliament speaker, nor the prime minister or the presidential administration head have the talent to carry out this task. As for the force ministers, they are at best skilful executors of orders. There is no doubt that little will be done when a strong commander is absent. As for the president's son Ilham Aliev, there are fewer chances for him to take the highest post. The author concludes that a real reformer is needed so that everybody in Azerbaijan will not depend one person's health.

The opposition's demands for the president's resignation cannot impact on the processes in the country, because the opposition is not capable of pursuing a vigorous struggle. That is the opinion of ASDP co-chair Zardusht Alizadeh with regard to the opposition's decision to commence protest actions, as published in the newspaper "Zerkalo." According to Alizadeh, the opposition leaders are not confident in themselves. Why does the opposition want to commence the actions not now but in March? Alizadeh answers that the opposition wants to see how the president's health develops. If the president returns home quite healthy, then the opposition will most probably postpone the action till November. Briefly, the opposition is very weak in the fight with the regime.

Parliament deputy Abutalib Samadov in an interview with the newspaper "Tezadlar" refers to the opposition's activity. He says the government has certain role in the opposition's inability to unite, and the opposition is not strong enough to create danger for the government. On the other hand, any government can freely work with an opposition that has so many ambitions.

Even though some 10 years have passed since the Khojaly tragedy, the press continues searching for those responsible for it. According to the newspaper "525," ex-president Ayaz Mutallibov accuses the opposition of the Khojaly tragedy. According to him, if the opposition did not prevent him from signing the agreement on the Azerbaijani army's joining the CIS chief command, the Khojaly tragedy would not have taken place.

Mirbaghir Yagubzadeh in an article carried by the newspaper "Khalg" refers to the drilling of oil wells noting that the drilling of new onshore wells is economically beneficial. He argues that the current oil and gas production is achieved through the operational oil and gas wells and the oil reserves to be produced in future requires the drilling of new exploration wells. It is not a secret that the economic difficulties of the recent years have caused a certain stagnation in the operation of onshore wells and in the creation of a system of development of technological documents. He concludes that there is still much onshore oil to be produced in Azerbaijan and experts confirm the efficiency and perspectiveness of the onshore wells.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)