Monday, October 24, 2005
Azeri Leader Mocks Opposition Hopes of Velvet Revolution
19.10.2005 15:14 MSK MosNews - Azeri President Ilkham Aliyev mocked the opposition movement in his nation saying in an interview with the Los Angeles Times it seeks to helplessly 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 Azeri leader asserted, the opposition is primarily concerned about planning protests for the next day over its probable loss at the ballot box. 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 post-election 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 post-election protests alleging fraud. Activists and police have clashed repeatedly in recent weeks over opposition parties' attempts to hold rallies in central Baku that had not been authorized by the government. Aliyev 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 by 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 spoke the day after Rasul Guliyev, an Azeri opposition leader who had received political asylum in the U.S., was arrested on an Interpol warrant during a stopover in Ukraine en route to his native country. Guliyev's supporters said that Aliyev's government had refused his 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." Although both the government and the main opposition in Azerbaijan are fundamentally pro-Western, stability here is of particular concern to the U.S. 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.