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Azerbaijan Report: November 26, 2002

26 November 2002
Thousands March In 24 November Opposition Protest
On 24 November, the United Opposition Movement held a scheduled, sanctioned protest. Ten thousand people representing more than 30 opposition parties marched from the 20 Yanvar metro station to the Galaba Cinema demanding the resignation President Heidar Aliev.

When the protesters filled Galaba Square, however, police surrounded it, blocking any more demonstrators from entering. An opposition representative called for the police to extend their ring around the square, which they eventually did.

Etibar Memmedov, chairman of the National Independence Party, said that the increasing number of demonstrators proved that the opposition was right in its call for Aliev's resignation. Memmedov also said, however, that until people shouted "istefa" (resignation) throughout Azerbaijan, it would not be possible to achieve that ultimate aim.

Ali Kerimov, head of the "reformist wing" of the Popular Front Party, said that the only way to rid the Azerbaijani people of the ongoing crisis and to liberate the occupied lands was for the present government to resign. "The 2003 state budget provides for a higher increase in funds for law-enforcement bodies instead of for the armed forces. With whom is the government going to wage war?" Kerimov asked, implying that the government is planning to wage a war with the Azerbaijani people instead of with the occupying Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Serdar Jelaloglu, secretary-general of the Democratic Party, said that the fact that Aliyev has resisted the nationwide demand for his resignation for so long signifies not his strength but his thirst for power. He added, however, that the people will put an end to this thirst in the near future.

Musavat Party Chairman Isa Gambar, for his part, expressed hope for an even larger opposition protest in the future and a change of government in 2003.

A resolution was read at the end of the protest, and Penah Huseinov, chairman of the People's Party, said that protests would continue toward a triumphant conclusion. (Babek Bekir)

Opposition Paper Pickets Office Of Libel-Suit Plaintiff
As part of their defense against a number of libel suits, the editorial staff of the Azerbaijani-language opposition daily "Yeni Musavat" and a committee for the defense of the newspaper's rights staged a sanctioned picket in front of the office of one of the plaintiffs, former State Property Minister Nadir Nasibov.

Gabil Abbasoglu, editor of "Yeni Musavat," said that if Nasibov did not withdraw his lawsuit against the newspaper, the paper would resort to more radical protest actions. "This is our calmest protest," he noted.

"Yeni Musavat" and the committee for the defense of its rights have set up a civic group to investigate the activities of the State Property Ministry during the leadership of Nasibov and his first deputy Barat Nuriev.

The two officials filed a lawsuit against the paper earlier this month claiming that the newspaper insulted their honor and dignity. The plaintiffs stated that "Yeni Musavat" articles that reported events related to a lawsuit filed by a number of U.S. companies against President Aliev, Nasibov, and Nuriev, as well as a number of other officials, all of whom were involved in dealings with Czech businessman Victor Kozeny, were full of false allegations. Nasibov and Nuriev have demanded that the court find the newspaper guilty and ban it from operating for three years, and they have launched a criminal suit directly against the authors of the articles.

"Yeni Musavat" has repeatedly called the suit an example of pressure on the free media, claiming that the plaintiffs are receiving their orders from the top.

Vusal Gasimov, head of the "Yeni Musavat" economic-news department, pointed out that during the time of Nasibov's leadership, the value of Azerbaijan's property decreased by $50 million-$60 million.

According to a resolution released at the end of the demonstration, Nasibov's lawsuit against the is a deliberate attempt against the freedom of the press and free speech in Azerbaijan. (Natig Zeinalli)

The independent Russian-language newspaper "Zerkalo" writes that Armenian Defense Minister Serge Sargisian's allegation that "Nagorno-Karabakh has never been under Azerbaijan's jurisdiction" in an interview with Azerbaijani journalists during the 21-22 November NATO summit in Prague has caused serious discontent among the Azerbaijani public.

According to the independent newspaper "525," Moscow Oblast Governor Boris Gromov, during a 25 November meeting with the Azerbaijani president, expressed satisfaction over the activity of Azerbaijani entrepreneurs in Moscow.

The government newspaper "Khalg" suggests that the struggle over putting forth a common opposition candidate for the upcoming presidential elections is escalating the differences among the opposition parties more than ever.

Twenty-six November is the 10th anniversary of the ruling New Azerbaijan Party (YAP). Azerbaijani newspapers have given broad coverage to this event.

In an article entitled "Negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh as an Election Card" in the opposition newspaper "Azadlig," Ferhad Memmedov comments on the Prague meeting of the Azerbaijani and Armenian presidents on the sidelines of the NATO summit. Memmedov noted that presidential elections will be held in both Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2003 and both presidents want to remain in power. Under such circumstances, it is unrealistic that the presidents will agree on a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the near future. Memmedov suggests that the Azerbaijani and Armenian leaderships are trying to benefit from the negotiations on Nagorno-Karabakh, using it as an "election card" on the eve on the upcoming elections. For example, not long ago, Armenian Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian, commenting on the Prague meeting, stated that the sides were close to achieving peace, but afterward he added that Nagorno-Karabakh would never be under the control of Azerbaijan. Thus, Oskanian is attempting to convince the Armenian public that a quick solution to the problem is at hand while also pointing to the readiness of Azerbaijan to make concessions to Armenia on this issue.

In an article called "Heidar Aliyev Strengthens Kocharian's Position" published in the opposition newspaper "Hurriyet," Rasim Bairamov also discusses the Prague meeting of the two leaders. He points out, citing several observers, that Aliev's emphasis on the importance of a peaceful solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh problem and the continuation of the negotiation process during the summit sends a message to the West that he is interested in following a peaceful policy with Armenia. At present, Western countries, especially the United States, do not support a military resolution of the conflict. Bairamov writes that unlike Armenian President Robert Kocharian, the position of the Azerbaijani head of state is much weaker, first of all, because there are a number of strong alternative presidential candidates in Azerbaijan who threaten his hold on power. On the other hand, while Kocharian is partly supported by Europe, Russia, and the United States, Aliyev is completely deprived of such international support.

An author writing only as Razi in the article "Discontented Reforms of the Customs Committee" in the pro-opposition newspaper "Yeni Zaman" writes that inhabitants of border districts often complain about the Customs Committee. Razi notes that beginning next month the government will impose customs tariffs on imported goods worth more than $200. Before, as much as $1,000 worth of goods was exempt from duties. Such reforms would complicate the social situation in Azerbaijan even more. Inhabitants of most border districts provide food to their families by bringing merchandise from neighboring countries. If such reforms are realized, most small merchants will remain without work. Razi explains that the government's upcoming reforms attempt to increase budget contributions from the State Customs Committee. That again proves that while the state budget is increasing, the living standards of the population are declining.

Under the headline "Source of Tragedy" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat," Elkhan Nesibli writes that 26 November is the anniversary of the founding of the New Azerbaijan Party, the successor to the Azerbaijani Communist Party. Ten years ago, former communists disguised themselves as "new Azerbaijanis," the author says. For these people, the YAP is the same communist institution but without Moscow's supervision and "politburo." If their freedom of action was restricted before because of their fear of the Kremlin, now new Azerbaijanis are their own masters. Touching on the reasons Aliyev has not resigned his chairmanship of the YAP, the author explains that it is because of his distrust of the party's leadership.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)