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Azerbaijani Media Kept Away From Obama Campaign Manager

David Plouffe (file photo)
BAKU -- David Plouffe, the former campaign manager of U.S. President Barack Obama, spoke to some 50 people at a university in Baku on February 9 in a meeting closed to the press.

Journalists were told to leave the auditorium at Gerb (Western) University before Plouffe gave a speech on the 2008 U.S. presidential election and "the power of democracy."

Plouffe is employed by AKPD Media and Messaging, a political-consulting firm that works for Democratic candidates and causes. The firm's founder is David Axelrod, who was the chief strategist on Obama's presidential campaign.

Local media say the invitation is from the Association for Development of Civil Society in Azerbaijan, which acts as a mouthpiece of Aliyev's presidential office. The organization told local media that Plouffe will also meet with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev.

But, after his speech, an RFE/RL reporter asked Plouffe whether he planned to raise human rights issues with President Aliyev.

"I'm here as a private citizen, so all I'm doing is talking about elections, and the Internet and democracy, and to talk about our [U.S.] election, and how great it was that so many people participated in it, and that's a lesson I think people can learn."

Plouffe in Baku
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(Video: David Plouffe speaking to RFE/RL after his speech on February 9 at Baku's Gerb (Western) University.)

Run-Up To Referendum

Plouffe's visit comes little more than a month before a referendum that seeks to remove the two-term limit on any individual serving in the office of president.

Azerbaijani opposition figures say that if the referendum succeeds, Aliyev will become president for life, thus confirming the dynastic rule of the Aliyev family started by his father Heidar.

They note the arrest on January 22 of Fakhreddin Abbasli, a senior official of the Musavat opposition party, which was planning a protest against the referendum. Other Azerbaijani activists say they have been intimidated and arrested when asking people to sign a petition against the referendum.

Isa Qambar, the head of the opposition Musavat party, told RFE/RL that he doesn't know much about Plouffe's visit.

"If he is here to meet the members of the government and to talk about the promotion of civil society, then it would be useful for him also to meet the representatives of the civil groups and political parties, too," Qambar said.

Plouffe is expected to leave Azerbaijan later on February 9.

He recently signed a lucrative contract to write a book about the inner workings of the Obama campaign.