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ECO Leaders Gather For Summit In Azerbaijan


Ahmadinejad, Erdogan Meet In Baku
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WATCH: Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad Meets Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan In Baku

Members of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) have met in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to discuss a wide range of regional issues.

Leaders from Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan -- as well as representatives from Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan -- attended the summit.

Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Almar Mamedyarov opened the gathering by saying the group needed to define priorities for regional economic cooperation.

Tajikistan's President Emomali Rahmon, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and host President Ilham Aliev called for more cooperation in regional energy projects.

But speeches from the leaders quickly moved away from economic cooperation to other matters.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked for ECO's help in fighting terrorism.

Karzai said Al-Qaeda, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, and other terrorist groups are active in Afghanistan. Karzai urged regional leaders to prevent the trafficking of weapons and other materials that could aid terrorists in Afghanistan.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari also spoke out against terrorism during his speech, specifically addressing the case of Malala Yousafzai, the 14-year-old girl the Taliban attempted to assassinate last week for speaking out in favor of girls' rights to education.

Zardari said "the work that she led was higher before God than what terrorists do in the name of religion."

Malala is being treated at a hospital in the United Kingdom and is expected to make a slow recovery.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad proposed creating a political forum within the ECO. He claimed that "the capitalist system and supporters of slavery and colonialism have come to the end of their history."

Aliyev also spoke out against growing Islamophobia in the world and also against Armenia's continued occupation of the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave that Azerbaijan claims as part of its territory.

The ECO has existed since the mid-1980s, when Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan were its only members. It boosted its international profile at the start of the 1990s when it brought in new members from the former Soviet Union and Afghanistan.

Turkmenistan is also a member, but there was no mention of that country sending a representative to the Baku summit.

With reporting by Interfax, APA News, and
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