- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Azeri response

The government of Azerbaijan accused the leader of the opposition of trying to “radicalize the political process” in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation, after reading his comments in an Embassy Row column last week.

Isa Gambar, chairman of the Musavat Party, was in Washington to urge the Bush administration to put pressure on President Ilham Aliyev to guarantee free and fair parliamentary elections on Nov. 6. Previous elections, including Mr. Aliyev’s victory in 2003, were full of “serious irregularities,” according to the State Department’s latest human rights report.

However, Mr. Aliyev’s senior foreign policy adviser, Elin Suleymanov, said Mr. Gambar distorted the domestic political picture in Azerbaijan.

In an e-mail to Embassy Row this week, Mr. Suleymanov said, “Mr. Gambar could make a better contribution to democracy spending more time with his voters and learning about their daily concerns.”

Mr. Gambar arrived in Washington on Sept. 26, a day after police used force to break up a peaceful pro-democracy demonstration in the capital, Baku. Police stopped Mr. Gambar from joining the protest by surrounding his car and smashing the windows, he said.

Mr. Suleymanov, however, said the demonstration was an illegal one and 15 police officers were injured trying to disperse the crowd. He added that “two people barely escaped the wheels of [Mr. Gambar’s] speeding limousine,” as it pulled away from the protest. He said Baku officials had offered the protesters the use of several city squares but they tried to hold a street demonstration instead.

“Mr. Gambar’s insistence on having an unauthorized rally in the middle of a busy intersection instead of a number of city squares offered to his party as venues by the city authorities is a predictable attempt to radicalize the political process,” Mr. Suleymanov said.

He conceded that the 2003 presidential election was “imperfect” but it produced a “clear winner.” He said Mr. Aliyev’s popularity rating is about 70 percent and a recent poll showed that 56 percent of Azeris believe the “country is developing in the right direction.”

“Isa Gambar is no Yushchenko or Saakashvili,” Mr. Suleymanov said, referring to Ukrainian President Victor Yushchenko and his Georgian counterpart, Mikhail Saakashvili, who led successful democratic revolutions in their countries.

Mr. Suleymanov, a former spokesman at the Azerbaijan Embassy in Washington, said, “There is much to be improved in Azerbaijan’s political process. Yet, with over 2,000 candidates, most of them independent, registered to compete for the 125 parliamentary seats, the nation is living through the most vibrant political campaign in its history.”

But Mr. Gambar’s representative in Washington, Brett O’Brien, said police broke up a second demonstration last week and arrested and beat up Mr. Gambar’s two sons.

“Mr. Gambar may now be unable to step outside Musavat Party headquarters,” he said.

Italian arrives

The new Italian ambassador arrived in Washington on Saturday and, within 48 hours, was standing in the Oval Office to present his diplomatic credentials to President Bush.

“I came to Washington with big enthusiasm and with the intention of strengthening even more the close ties between the United States and Washington,” Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta told Mr. Bush.

The Italian Embassy was impressed that the ambassador was received by the president in what appeared to be record time. Many ambassadors have had to wait weeks to present their credentials. Italy, however, has the third-largest troop deployment in Iraq, after the United States and Britain.

Mr. Castellaneta, a career diplomat who served as ambassador to Iran from 1992 to 1995, is familiar with many on the White House staff because of contacts he made during his service as national security adviser to Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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