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No Revolution Coming, Azerbaijani Leader Says

Ridiculing foes, Aliyev dissociates his nation from those that have had democratic upheavals.

October 19, 2005|David Holley | Times Staff Writer

BAKU, Azerbaijan — President Ilham Aliyev mocked the opposition movement in his nation during an interview Tuesday, saying it seeks to haplessly imitate the anti-authoritarian revolutions that in the last two years have swept governments from power in other former Soviet republics.

Rather than focusing on next month's parliamentary election, the Azerbaijani leader asserted, the opposition is primarily concerned about planning protests for the next day over its probable loss at the ballot box.

"They are preparing not for Nov. 6 but for Nov. 7," he said. "They have been inspired by the air of revolutions in the region."

Although both the government and the main opposition in Azerbaijan are fundamentally pro-Western, stability here is of particular concern to the United States because of Caspian Sea oil. A nearly completed $3.4-billion pipeline linking Baku, the capital, with the Turkish port of Ceyhan is expected to carry 1 million barrels of oil a day by 2008.

The U.S. and the European Union also have been pushing Azerbaijan toward greater democracy, calling for the upcoming vote to be free and fair. International observers have sharply criticized past elections in the country.

Aliyev, who succeeded his ailing father as president two years ago, is generally viewed as a powerful leader who allows some opposition but nonetheless keeps the nation firmly under control.

In the interview, Aliyev expressed confidence that the country's rapidly growing wealth, the weakness of the political opposition and the strength of current authorities would protect him from the kind of postelection upheaval that ousted governments in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Weeks of massive street protests in Ukraine last year were dubbed the Orange Revolution after the color chosen as a symbol by supporters of then-opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, now that country's president. Wearing orange clothing has become a symbol of support for democratic change in several countries that were part of the Soviet Union, but Aliyev ridiculed this effort in his country.

"They put this funny dress on themselves, which has been already used in another place, and they think that by putting on these orange T-shirts they become great revolutionaries," he added.

"They are not. They are funny, they are weak and personally I regret that we have such an opposition because this is a shame for the country also."

Aliyev said he expected a portion of the opposition, what he called a "small group of hostile, violent opposition activists," to stage postelection protests alleging fraud.

Activists and police have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks over opposition parties' attempts to hold rallies in central Baku that hadn't been authorized by the government. Aliyev's rivals rejected the government's offers of alternate sites outside the city center. Some Western governments and human rights groups have criticized the alleged use of excessive force by police in breaking up the unsanctioned demonstrations.

Aliyev, speaking English throughout the interview, defended the conduct of police and the decision to deny his foes the use of downtown squares for rallies. He charged that the rallies had failed to attract as many supporters as hoped, so the opposition switched tactics to seek confrontation.

"It is a deliberate attempt of the opposition to create violence, to be beaten by police, and then to demonstrate that there's no democracy in Azerbaijan," he said. "Their goal became to be shown by various TV channels and to find their names in the world press and to try to present Azerbaijan as a country where freedom of assembly is not provided.

"This is complete provocation, and everybody should know it," he added.

Aliyev said the opposition hoped to bring him down, but it would fail. "Many things are different in Azerbaijan than in the neighboring countries," he said. "If you compare the economic situation and political situation in Ukraine and Georgia before the elections in those countries and in Azerbaijan, you will see the difference."

Aliyev, who won office in 2003 to replace his father, the late Heydar A. Aliyev, cited the rapid development of the country's oil infrastructure and strong economic growth, with official figures showing that gross domestic product expanded at a 21% annual rate for the first nine months of this year.

Aliyev spoke the day after Rasul Guliyev, an Azerbaijani opposition leader who had received political asylum in the U.S., was arrested on an Interpol warrant during a stopover in Ukraine. The opposition said he was attempting to return to Azerbaijan to run in the parliamentary election. Azerbaijani authorities immediately began seeking his extradition on long-standing corruption charges.

Guliyev's supporters said that Aliyev's government had refused the plane permission to land in Azerbaijan, but the president disputed that Tuesday.

"Permission was not denied," he said. "This is an attempt of the opposition to mislead the public. How can we deny permission when we are trying to extradite Rasul Guliyev to Azerbaijan? We are waiting for Rasul Guliyev. A special place has already been prepared for him in prison."

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