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Azerbaijan Report: March 27, 2002

27 March 2002
United Opposition Movement Staged Protest Action
The United Opposition Movement which includes the Musavat Party, Democratic Party, Popular Front Party and the Civic Unity Party of ex-president Ayaz Mutallibov staged a rally in Baku on 23 March demanding the government's resignation. The party had sent a letter to the Baku municipal authorities indicating that the action would be staged on Fizuli square, but the Baku mayor's office suggested the Galaba square instead. The opposition rejected that proposal.

In the morning of 23 March, police officers surrounded the Fizuli Square and suspended all public transport that people could use to get there. The demonstrators converged on the square from two directions. Some of them led by Musavat Party chairman Isa Gambar began to march in the Islam Safarli street behind the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the slogans "Resignation" and "Musavat". Musavat members managed to march only a few hundred meters before they encountered police resistance.

The confrontation between the protesters and the police lasted for half an hour and ended with the demonstrators retreating. Gambar's two bodyguards were seriously injured but the picketers continued resisting the police. Sometimes the police were even obliged to retreat, throwing away their shields and truncheons. As the confrontation intensified, the Musavat leader's supporters began to move him away, but found that his car was badly damaged. Then some nine cars full of Interior Ministry soldiers were brought to the square but by that time most of the demonstrators had been dispersed.

The protesters called for the ouster of President Heidar Aliyev and immediate preparations for new democratic elections. They also protested against what they claim are Aliev's repressive policies against political dissenters.

(Babek Bekir and Maarif Chingizoglu)

Georgian State Border Department Head Visited Azerbaijan
Valeri Chkheidze, head of the Georgian State Department for the Protection of State Borders, who is visiting Baku and Elchin Guliev, Azerbaijan's Deputy Minister of National Security and the Chief Commander of the Frontier Guards, held a joint press conference on 26 March. They said thay have signed protocols on cooperation and information exchange in the spheres of operation-investigation and control-passage. In response to a question about violations by Azerbaijanis of the Georgian- Azerbaijani border, Chkheidze said such incidents give grounds for concern, but that his agency is not empowered to deal with such cases. He said measures have been taken to make it easier for people living close to the border to cross the frontier, but that the problem cannot be settled within one day or one week, because it has both economic and political sides.

Asked whether armed groups could breach Azerbaijani borders in the event that anti-terror operations are launched in Abkhazia, Chkheidze said he had discussed that possibility with Guliev and both sides are concerned by it, but he did not comment further. Referring to Russian officials' recent claims that Georgia was instrumental in the delivery to Armenia of weaponry worth $1 billion, Chkheidze said there is no evidence to support those claims, which he attributed to Russian officials' lack of objectivity. He said Russia could bring about a great tragedy for Georgia.

Azerbaijan frontier guard commander Guliev denied that the Georgian-Azerbaijani border is a source of illegal immigration.

(Zhale Mutallimova)

Vagif Samadoglu, a member of the Azerbaijani parliament and the Azerbaijani delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), in an interview with the newspaper "Zerkalo" stated that Azerbaijan should compromise with Europe. He pointed out that Azerbaijan is located on the touch-line of global interests and action is needed to save the country in the current complicated situation. He admitted that the Armenian lobby against Azerbaijan in the PACE is really powerful, but added that time works in Azerbaijan's favor. He said Armenians cannot be suppressed any more and expressed confidence that the Karabakh conflict will be certainly settled.

Khalig Bahadir in an article "Community of unification" carried by the newspaper "Azadlig" writes that the United Opposition Movement comprising 26 parties did not adopt proper meeting tactics. He said the United Opposition Movement had taken a decision before the meeting, demanding that Heydar Aliyev resign for violating his oath which, Bahadir said, is considered a great crime. If there is such a crime and it can be insured by remaining in power, then who would resign at the demand of small parties? The author also notes that today there are five parties in Azerbaijan distinguished by their real strength: the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the Musavat Party, the Azerbaijan National Liberation Party, the Azerbaijan Democratic Party and the Adalat Party. He said that the unification of these five parties in one bloc to oppose the clan government without putting forth their presidential aspirations would mean the unification of the opposition.

An article entitled "Why does the oil money disappear?" carried by the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" says that the Oil Fund is spent not on the priority directions of the economy but political goals. The author claims that the uncertain fate of the oil revenues is causing concern. Azerbaijan has generated $1 billion dollars worth of revenues just within the Contract of the Century, the first oil contract signed with foreign oil companies, now operated by BP. At presently, the Oil Fund contains some $500 million, but no step is taken to direct its revenues to the non-oil sector.

Gabil Abbasoglu in a commentary "The situation of resignation" carried by the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" notes that the significance of the protest action, which was countered by the government's frightened resistance, is becoming more apparent from day to day. The process of forming new political relationships has begun. Abbasoglu says the first factor is the opposition's ability to tap the popular mood which is becoming increasingly radical. Discontent with intolerable living conditions, lawlessness, police and state officials' tyranny, restrictions on freedom of expression and the loss of Karabakh has been restrained by total fear for many years but has nonetheless reached a climax. The author suggests that in the new political situation it seems unrealistic for the Azerbaijani opposition to stage meetings with the demands "free elections", "bread" and "jobs" because the most important demand is now for the government's resignation.

The newspaper "Ekho" writes that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Kaluzhny stated at the international conference "The Caspian: the policy of the new era" that Russia wants railway traffic between Azerbaijan and Armenia to be restored, which can contribute to settlement of the conflict. But Matin Mirze, head of the press service of the Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry, told the newspaper that there can be no talk of such cooperation until the Armenian army withdraws from Azerbaijan's occupied lands.

AzTV's political commentator Maharramli in an interview with the newspaper "Tezadlar" affirmed that even though the press in Azerbaijan is free, the media outlets are not free. Maharramli calls journalism today an arena for political confrontation, given that media outlets are fighting each other. He attributes this phenomenon to the fact that real journalism is only being formed very slowly in Azerbaijan.

Nizami Gojayev, former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs investigation department has been pardoned under the Azerbaijani president's most recent amnesty. The newspaper "Tezadlar" in an article entitled "Who arrested Nizami Gojayev?" provides clarification of some aspects of the case that were not clear. An article "Will Eldar Hasanov be Recalled?" carried by the newspaper "Yeni Musavat" claims that the Alasgarovs tried to have Nizami Gojayev rehabilitated. Hasanov is Azerbaijan's ambassador to Romania.

Seyyad Aran from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party in an interview with the newspaper "525" notes that if the opposition wants to come to power, then they should wait for the 2003 presidential elections. Seyyad Aran noted that if the opposition wants to tell people something pleasant, it does not matter where they tell it from. Fizuli square is in the centre of the city and government officials do not allow people's rest to be violated by staging mass actions of protest. According to Aran, the opposition wants to engage in sabotage whatever the cost.

The newspaper "Khalg" claims the 23 March meeting demonstrated the weakness of the opposition.

Ali Ahmadov, executive secretary of the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party in an interview with the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" notes that they want those parties wishing to come to power in Azerbaijan to disclose their financial sources.

According to the newspaper "Ekho," Shadman Hussein, who recently left the Azerbaijan National Liberation Party, is planning to establish his own party.

Veli Ilyasov in an article "Split is seen in the ADP" carried by the newspaper "Azerbaijan" writes that dissent, intrigue, differences, and confrontation are characteristic features of radical opposition parties. For this reason, some parties are splitting and collapsing. The author notes that the Democratic Party split once, then Ilyas Ismailov left the party and established a separate Adalat party. But a further split in the ADP may be imminent, as Serdar Jelaloglu thinks that his position is stronger than that of Rasul Guliev in America, behaves freely in Baku and passes himself off as the real leader of the ADP.

Kebutar in a report "Martyrdom is happiness, but�" devoted to Ashura and carried by the newspaper "Yeni Azerbaijan" writes that members of the clergy must explain the real essence of these sacred days to the people. But the Azerbaijani people seem to decide everything themselves. The author notes that the employees of the blood transfusion institute came to the place of mourning and asked the people there to give blood.

(Compiled and translated by Arifa Alieva)