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Azerbaijan Report: December 13, 2002

13 December 2002
Journalists Protest Government Pressure at Rally
On 12 December the Editors Union held a sanctioned nationwide protest at Galaba Square. The demonstrators shouted slogans such as "Repeal court rulings against the media," "Stop pressuring the media," and "Down with the PKK [Kurdish Labor Party]" among others.

Ganimet Zahidov, who was the first to speak, thanked the demonstrators for gathering in cold snowy weather and said that despite all difficulties pressure on the media must not continue without a response. He was followed by Eflatun Amashov, head of the Ruh Journalists Defense Committee.

"Although the government took some measures to develop the media at the beginning of 2002, it's not enough," Amashov said. "During the last two months, the situation surrounding Azerbaijani journalism has worsened." Amashov noted that the media have no objection to court actions, but the courts must be independent.

Lawsuits against journalists are ordered from above, stated the resolution adopted at the end of the protest. The demonstrators also called for an end to government officials filing legal actions against the media, an increase in the amount of credit allocated to the media, and a simplification of the loan procedure.

No clashes between the protesters and police were observed. But organizers considered a power outage -- which forced the speakers to continue with the aid of a loudspeaker -- as an attempt to interrupt the meeting.

(Natig Zeinalli)

Opposition Parties To Boycott Election-Law Roundtable Talks
Three of the leading opposition parties, plus the "reformist wing" of one other, have announced that they will meet at the end of the month to talk about how to address their objections to the draft unified election code.

The Musavat, Democratic, National Independence parties and the "reform wing" of the People's Front Party -- recently united under the Opposition Coordinating Center -- have agreed to hold a Free Election Forum at the end of December.

Arif Hajiev, deputy chairman of the Musavat Party, said in an interview with RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that such a forum is important to determine the opposition's goals and interests regarding the government's unified draft election code, which combines the five existing laws on election issues. He said that the draft code contained too many problems to ensure free and just presidential election. Therefore, participants at the forum will discuss the form and type of pressure to exert on the government.

On 11 December these parties announced that they would not participate in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)-sponsored roundtable talks on the draft code, to be held at the Milli Majlis on 15-16 December.

Hajiev justified the move by noting that similar roundtable discussions, held on the eve of the 24 August referendum on amendments to the constitution, were useless. Moreover, the terms for the discussion this time around are not favorable for the opposition. He suggested decreasing the number of participants to a minimum and ensuring equal access.

But Ulvi Akhundova from OSCE's Baku office told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that the office was unaware of what terms the opposition was unhappy with. Akhundova said that the OSCE had completed its final conclusions on the draft law and it would be presented to the public soon.

The draft election law has been a work in progress since January. But it was only available to the U.S.-based NGO IFES and the OSCE until late November, when it was released publicly.

Akhundova noted that the OSCE had put forward its suggestions regarding the draft law to the presidential administration, but the government took into account only some of the recommendations.

(Babek Bekir)

Under the headline "Writing slander does not suit the opposition," the governmental newspaper "Azerbaycan" writes that the opposition media writes lies for the sake of sensation.

The pro-governmental newspaper "Yeni Azerbaycan" in an article entitled "Incomprehensible energy consumption in regions" notes that despite the fact that the volume of electricity given to the regions has increased, the situation with supply has not improved.

Azer Aihan in the article "Unprecedented courage" in the opposition newspaper "Yeni Musavat" writes that Azerbaijani journalists have again demonstrated courage and, despite the cold winter weather, held a protest to demand their rights and preserve free speech in Azerbaijan. Despite the difficulties and dangers, journalists do their best not to surrender to the government, and they are protecting freedom of speech with their lives. Today, all people -- including journalists -- are tired of the government and are thinking how they will be rid of it. No one believes in the possibility of a happy future with President Heidar Aliev. That is not strange since the government has quashed the people's hope for the future and love for life.

An author writing only as Ismailova in an article entitled "Opposition forces are in no position to turn into a political bloc" in the newspaper "Azerbaycan" points out that the opposition's dreams of "cohesion" will never come true. The author notes that the opposition parties can't even achieve unity within their own groups, and as a result more and more people are leaving them. Leading opposition figures state that their parties will not join any political bloc or organization and will participate in the presidential elections separately. Ismailova writes that the chief initiators of such a contradiction within the opposition camp are the opposition chairmen themselves, who have established their parties for one purpose -- to come to power.

The independent newspaper "525" carries a Turan news agency interview with Abbaseli Hasanov, Azerbaijan's ambassador to Iran. Hasanov said that the relations between Azerbaijan and Iran are developing dynamically. The Azerbaijani president's visit to Iran was a turning point in relations between the two countries. Hasanov noted that there is nothing blocking Iranian Azeris who want to come to Azerbaijan. The close ties between the Azerbaijani and Iranian peoples provides a powerful incentive to the development of amicable relations between Baku and Tehran. "All Iranian citizens, excluding Armenians, are in a position to visit Azerbaijan unhindered," the ambassador concluded.

Under the headline "The secret of the Porto summit disclosed," the opposition newspaper "Hurriyyet" writes that the OSCE Foreign Ministers Council in Porto, Portugal, supported peaceful negotiations between Azerbaijan and Armenia but refused again to acknowledge the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. The newspaper cites what it calls a reliable source and comments that during the meeting the conflict was referred to as the "Nagorno-Karabakh conflict." But under such a formulation, it is difficult to determine to whom Nagorno-Karabakh belongs. The newspaper points out that since the 1998 presidential elections the government has taken a compromising stand on the Nagorno-Karabakh issue. On the eve the upcoming elections, the government has taken the next step in conflict with Azerbaijan's national interests and has not opposed such a formulation.

An author writing only as Azimli in the article "The Central Election Commission is turning into a center of power" in the independent newspaper "Yeni Zaman" notes that the recent decisions and statements of the Opposition Coordinating Center have demonstrated that the opposition's struggle with the government are deepening. The opposition realizes that only by putting an end to the present government will it be possible to solve the country's problems and ensure normal living standards for the people, Azimli writes.

Ogtai Efendiev, the head of the Azerbaijani diaspora in Ukraine, said in an interview with the independent newspaper "Ekho" that at present Azerbaijanis living in Ukraine face no serious problem. Touching on the issue on the deportation of Azerbaijanis from some CIS countries, Efendiev noted that there was no such problem in Ukraine. On the contrary, Azerbaijanis continue to come to this country to live permanently.

(Compiled and translated by Etibar Rasulov)