- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2005

Democracy in Azerbaijan

Tsotne Bakuria’s Sunday Commentary column, “The last dictator,” failed to mention key points regarding the recent elections in Azerbaijan. The encouraging news is that electoral reforms continue to progress in the nascent democracy. Improvements since the last elections, in 2003, include the allocation of free airtime on state-run media to candidates, lively rallies by opposition parties, the inking of voters’ fingers to prevent fraud, complete voter lists on the Internet and voter education campaigns.

Although some opposition leaders are crying foul, widespread fraud and irregularities did not occur and should not discount election results. Even the United States, a nation with a history of democracy stretching back more than 200 years, deals with irregularities in the election process. In one extreme example from the 2004 elections, a so-called nonpartisan group in Ohio paid crack cocaine in exchange for fraudulent registration cards for Dick Tracy, Mary Poppins and other fictional characters. Ridiculous, but clearly an irregular means of getting out the vote.

It might be wise to take a closer look at a nation’s history and progress before broadly condemning its elections. If the United States struggles with fraud, bribery and intimidation, can we expect perfection from nations still getting their democratic footing? In Azerbaijan, there is hope for democracy to take root. The recent elections feed that hope.

Compared with the previous elections, these were more open, more transparent and more democratic. The United States should offer encouragement when progress is made and warnings where evidence of illegal electioneering emerges. A stable and steady transition toward freedom and liberty must be the ultimate goal for the former Soviet republics, and the recent elections in Azerbaijan were a step forward in that direction.



ADIL BAGUIROV

Vice president

Caspian Alliance

Alexandria

The prime minister’s new party

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to leave the Likud Party should not come as a surprise to observers of his political career (“Sharon’s bombshell,” Editorial, Wednesday). Always the politician and the opportunist, he is currying international favor, along with his newfound ally Shimon Peres, by acceding to the demands of the Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas and placing in jeopardy not only all Jewish communities outside of the pre-1967 armistice lines of Israel but also East Jerusalem.

His reward, undoubtedly, for such a program at the expense of the security of the Jewish state will be a Nobel Peace Prize (which he can proudly state he shares with Yasser Arafat).

Mr. Sharon has demonstrated his contempt for the Likud Party and its platform by leaving and forming the National Responsibility (“Peace Now”) Party and abandoning the very principles of the party that brought him to power.

NELSON MARANS

Silver Spring

Flu shots and autism

Dan Olmsted is correct in his United Press International article “The Age of Autism: Flu shot flashpoint” (The Washington Times Web site, Nov. 19). Six years after the federal recommendation to remove thimerosal from childhood vaccines, the mercury-based preservative continues to endanger our children’s health.

Based on the EPA adult-safe daily limit of mercury, a child needs to weigh 275 pounds to safely get the 12.5 micrograms mercury in the thimerosal flu shot. The average 6-month-old weighs 17 pounds, so the flu shot is in excess of 16 times the EPA limit. Six- to 23-month-olds require a second flu shot one month later, for an additional 12.5 micrograms mercury overexposure.

The thimerosal flu shot given to pregnant women contains 25 micrograms mercury. A recent report found that the fetus accumulates mercury and typically has blood levels at 70 percent higher than those found in the mother at the time of birth. Several years ago, over serious concerns, the 10.5 micrograms mercury was removed from the Rho-D shot given to the 16 percent pregnant women with Rh-negative blood. Now a much higher percentage of pregnant women may get the flu shot containing more than twice that amount of mercury.

Because our government has refused a ban at the federal level, it should be at the top of all our states’ agendas to protect pregnant women, infants and children from thimerosal. Adding the preservative to the flu shot allows for multidose packaging at a lower cost than the $4 per dose it costs to producing a single dose without thimerosal. Isn’t our children’s neurodevelopmental health more important than saving $4 on a shot?

HEATHER O’BRIEN

St. Paul, Minn.

Limits on smoking bans

Jacob Sullum’s column “Smoking’s inner limits” (Commentary, Nov. 19) was beautifully done. He showed the true motivations of those behind the smoking bans for what they are … simply a desire to socially engineer smokers into either quitting or switching over to Big Pharma’s “nicotine replacement” products.

What Mr. Sullum did not discuss, but should have, is just how much Big Pharma’s influence is coming into play in these bans. When ban supporters need to spend $1.5 million to shove a ban down the throats of a population where 80 percent of the voters are nonsmokers, something clearly is very, very wrong.

Smoking bans would never pass if both sides had a level playing field and access to the public microphone. The scientific studies supporting the bans are far weaker than ban supporters portray them to be, and the threat far less — even nonexistent by any normal meaning of the word “threat.” Making waiters serve outdoors, exposed to carcinogenic sunlight, is probably in all reality a far greater threat to their lives than having them work indoors in a decently ventilated restaurant or bar where smoking is allowed.

MICHAEL J. MCFADDEN

Philadelphia

Religious tolerance in Turkey

In “The cost of faith” (Page 1, Thursday), Nicholas Birch ignored a long-standing tradition of religious tolerance in Turkey, which sets a good example in a world increasingly turning into a place where people are stigmatized because of their beliefs, ethnicities or even appearances, including in Western countries.

The Jews of Byzantium were among the first people to settle in Turkish Anatolia, followed by those welcomed by Sultan Bayezid II who were fleeing the Inquisition more than 500 years ago. Over the next several centuries, Jews fleeing persecution throughout Europe found refuge in the Ottoman Empire and later the Republic of Turkey, particularly during the Holocaust. Another testament to Turkey’s tradition of tolerance is the centuries-long presence of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate in Istanbul.

In recent years, Turkey has undertaken comprehensive reforms, which even Mr. Birch has difficulty concealing in his report. These reforms are being implemented with a view to strengthening democracy, consolidating the rule of law and ensuring respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, including religious ones.

This effort was exemplified earlier this month when Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders from throughout Turkey and the region met in Istanbul to advance the cause of interreligious cooperation, tolerance and peace.

Like the United States, Turkey is committed to preserving the secular nature of its government and democracy. Our efforts to ensure religious freedom should not be misrepresented as intolerance.

FATIH YILDIZ

First secretary

Embassy of the Republic of Turkey

Washington

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