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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Arrest of Reformers in Azerbaijan Sparks More Poll Tensions

20.10.2005 10:36 MSK MosNews - Pre-election tensions in oil-rich Azerbaijan have increased after the government fired Farhad Aliyev, the cabinet's leading reformer and economy minister, on Oct. 19 as a top U.S. diplomat arrived for talks, the Financial Times reports. Aliyev was detained along with his brother, Rafik Aliyev, who runs the country's largest petrol station chain, Azpetrol. Opposition politicians said regime hard-liners have been increasingly at odds with the liberal Aliyev brothers during the run-up to the Nov. 6 parliamentary elections. The arrests came as Daniel Fried, a U.S. assistant secretary of state, arrived for talks with Ilham Aliyev, Azeri president, which are expected to focus on the worsening campaign climate. The Aliyev brothers are regarded as the heads of the ruling elite's second-richest clan, after the clan of the president, to whom they are not related. Baku is an important transit point for much of the region's growing oil production as it heads to Europe and the U.S. Next month's elections come ahead of the opening of a major oil pipeline across Georgia and Turkey which is expected to double the size of the country's economy. Official news announcements that the president had dismissed Farhad Aliyev did not specify any reasons, but parliament members accused the sacked minister of corruption. A person close to the Aliyev brothers said dozens of their subordinates at the ministry and Azpetrol had been taken into custody or were being interrogated in their offices. Opposition leaders said the arrests were a warning that Azerbaijan could turn away from the west and towards its northern neighbor Russia if western governments too vocally criticized the elections. "The main point here is blackmail," said Fuad Mustafayev, deputy leader of the opposition Popular Front. On Oct. 16, state television introduced censorship of paid political advertisements and of air time allotted to opposition candidates. President Ilham Aliyev, meanwhile, has tried to assure the West that the opposition is weak in his country, but its wealth is growing rapidly. He recently mocked the opposition movement in his nation saying in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that it seeks to helplessly imitate the anti-authoritarian revolutions that in the last two years have swept governments from power in former Soviet republics such as Georgia, Ukraine, and Kyrgyzstan.

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