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Azerbaijan Report: August 23, 2002

23 August 2002
Pro-Mutallibov Hunger Strike Prevented
A group dedicated to bringing a former president of Azerbaijan back from exile said that members would begin hunger strikes this week, but the group was evicted from its headquarters before the protest could begin.

Sheikh Abdul Mahmudbekov, the chairman of the Committee to Protect the Rights of Ayaz Mutallibov, announced on 16 August that the hunger strike would begin on 21 August. But on 20 August the Mutallibov supporters received anonymous calls demanding that they call off the strike, committee Deputy Chairman Galib Sailov said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service. Otherwise, he said, the committee was warned that it would be evicted from its headquarters by force.

The next morning the owner of the building where the headquarters was situated met the hunger strikers and demanded that they leave the premises. Sailov said the owner himself made no secret of the fact that he acted under pressure from the authorities.

Due to the eviction, the committee has decided to postpone its hunger strike until it finds a new headquarters. Sailov added that 12 members of the committee had expressed their readiness to go ahead with the hunger strike.

The committee is fighting for Mutallibov's return to Azerbaijan and his participation in the presidential elections in 2003, as well as for an end to legal proceedings against Mutallibov's supporters. Mutallibov has lived in Russia since fleeing unrest in Azerbaijan in 1992. Earlier this summer, the Ministry of National Security charged the former president and some of his alleged supporters with trying to prepare a coup in 2001.

According to commitee Chairman Mahmudbekov, the pressure campaign against the former president and his supporters, as well as the legal action against them, are signs that President Heidar Aliyev considers Mutallibov his most dangerous rival.

(Babek Bekir and Natig Zeinalli)

Opposition Demonstrators Call for Referendum Boycott
Some 30 opposition parties held a sanctioned demonstration on 20 August, urging the Azerbaijani people not to take part in the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution. A broad coalition of opposition parties, including the Musavat, Democratic, National Independence, and People's Front parties have agreed to boycott the referendum, which they say is illegal and has come too quickly for people to learn about the issues. The government, which proposed the referendum, says the changes to the constitution are necessary because of Azerbaijan's membership in the Council of Europe.

Several thousand people marched from the 20 Yanvar (20 January) metro station to the Galaba cinema, both of which are outside the center of Baku.

They demanded that the president resign and that all terms and conditions of the protesting residents of the village of Nardaran be met. The protesters also called for fair elections and increased political struggle in order to create democratic conditions.

(Babek Bekir)

Newspapers ran various articles and commentaries on the opposition's 20 August protest in preparation for the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution.

Hikmet Sabiroglu in an article entitled "The time to decide has come" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig" writes that there is a relative warming among leading opposition parties. Contradictions between them have died out and the current cooperation among them in order to prevent the referendum is no longer considered exceptional. According to Sabiroglu, "pro-governmental" forces within the opposition now face a difficult choice. Such groups must either support the opposition's demands or come over to the other side of the trench forever.

Khalid Kazimoglu in the article "One day's cohesion" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni musavat" writes that the leadership is alarmed about the cohesion among the opposition parties. The authorities thought that the divided opposition would never be able to come together again and that opposition leaders who criticized each other would never become allies. Kazimoglu writes that the authorities have lost all means to affect the opposition. Although the present cohesion will last only for a short time it indicates that the opposition has not lost its ability to unite.

The opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" compares parliament members' salaries in Azerbaijan with those in other CIS states. According to the newspaper Azerbaijani parliament members' salaries are 30 times higher than those of their Tajik colleagues.

Bakhtiar Javadov in an article entitled "The idea of exchanging Lachin for Mehri corridor was raised by Suleiman Demirel when he was Turkish prime minister" in the independent newspaper "Tezadlar" writes that the present Armenian and Azerbaijani leaderships are not able to solve the Karabakh conflict without international organizations' assistance.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Khalg" writes in the article "New stage in development of small and midsize business" that state assistance is the most important factor in developing small and medium-sized enterprises.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" in the article "New life beginning in Agdam" writes that a hundred new homes have been built for refugees with money from the State Oil Fund.

An author writing only as Muslum in the article "The number of children avoiding school will increase" in the independent newspaper "Yeni zaman" notes as the new academic year is about to begin that Azerbaijan's poor experience various difficulties in educating their children. Parents, for example, are not able to afford materials or books when the average monthly salary is 160,000 to 170,000 manats ($32-$34).

Parliament member Zahid Oruj says in an interview with the independent newspaper "525" that Iran is using the Iranian Cultural Center in Baku to carry out plans to undermine the country. According to him, neighboring countries are attempting to upset public order in Azerbaijan by all possible means. These countries (of which he names only Iran) act in the occupied territories and other Azerbaijani regions under various guises. Their foreign intelligence services provoked the incidents in the village of Nardaran, when a clash between residents and police led to the death of a villager. Oruj also accuses officials of Iran's diplomatic missions of illegal actions such as interfering in the internal affairs of Azerbaijan and engaging in propaganda in border zones under the cover of religion.

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" reports on 23 August that Gerard Stoudman, director of the OSCE Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, expressed concern about the plan to provide journalists and members of political parties with domestic observer status during voting on the referendum on amendments to the constitution. Journalists objected that the Central Election Commission's (CEC) scheme was unnecessary. The CEC backed down after media representatives took it to court. The CEC has also accredited opposition party observers in the face of international pressure.

The newspaper "Azerbaycan" in an article entitled "Eternal discontent" comments on the dissatisfaction between the New Generation Journalists' Union and the Central Election Committee. The CEC decided that the list of media representatives who are going to observe the referendum must be presented to the committee no later than one week before the referendum. But the Editors' Union ignored that decision and called on the media not to register with the committee. The newspaper writes that the New Generation Journalists' Union leaders seem to be forgetting their professional duties. During the referendum media should attempt to spread true and impartial information, "Azerbaycan" argues.

The newspaper "Hurriyyet" in the article "Can Aliyev compromise on some articles?" suggests that the government might announce that some unimportant suggested amendments to the constitution were "rejected" by voters in order to convince observers that the constitutional referendum was fair.

The newspaper "Azadlig" reports that Azerbaijani troops and border guards began search operations along the Russian-Azerbaijani border after local people reported seeing armed men in the forests. The article "New tension in northern regions" says that several men were arrested in the helicopter-aided operation. Among them were some residents of Daghestan, who crossed the border illegally.

An author writing only as Vafa in the newspaper "525" writes that it is no secret that singers and actors are now more popular among the people than politicians are. In an article entitled "Unprecedented political activity of cultural figures," Vafa points out that as their words can have a strong influence on the population, the authorities have decided to use writers, actors and singers to attract the Azerbaijani population's attention to the referendum. Recent cultural events and the number of show-business personalities in them show that the authorities have achieved their goal.

An author writing only as Aranli in the article "Aliyev school" in the newspaper "Yeni zaman" discusses political schools in the world. Aranli writes that a specific form of governance called the "Aliyev school" has existed since 1993 and says that Aliyev has adapted it to the dictates of the time. According to the author there is no need for President Aliyev to lead the Azerbaijani people until the end of his life. The Azerbaijani people are not genetic invalids and have a lot of politicians and intellectuals who can lead the people, the author writes.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)