- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Azeri appeal

The leader of Azerbaijan’s political opposition was attacked by police Sunday at a peaceful demonstration in the capital, Baku, and arrived in Washington a day later to seek support for democratic reform in the energy-rich nation on the Caspian Sea.

Isa Gambar, chairman of the Musavat Party, yesterday urged the Bush administration to demand that Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev guarantee free and fair parliamentary elections on Nov. 6. Parliament is now overwhelmingly dominated by supporters of Mr. Aliyev, who succeeded his late father, Heydar Aliyev, as president in a deeply flawed 2003 election.

“We do not seek support for us as a party,” Mr. Gambar told The Washington Times. “We want support from the United States for the democratic process.”

He appealed for international election observers and foreign journalists to witness the voting.

“We want the Azerbaijan government to be deterred from resorting to violence,” he said.

The government showed its willingness to use force against political opponents Sunday when police broke up an unauthorized Baku demonstration calling for free and fair elections. Police beat many demonstrators and arrested dozens, according to news reports.

Police also attacked the car in which Mr. Gambar was riding, smashing the windows and preventing him from joining the protest.

“It’s normal,” Mr. Gambar said, when asked about the police response.

He urged President Bush to send a clear warning to Mr. Aliyev. Mr. Gambar praised Mr. Bush’s inaugural speech in January promising U.S. support for pro-democracy forces around the world.

“He said the United States will stand with people fighting for freedom and against dictators,” Mr. Gambar said.

He also noted that a truly democratic Azerbaijan is in the national security interest of the United States. A free and prosperous Azerbaijan, he argued, can better cooperate in the war on terrorism, ensure stability in the Caspian region and, as a Muslim nation, set an example in the Islamic world.

Mr. Gambar said a fairly elected government in Azerbaijan will help spur reform in neighboring Iran, home to 30 million ethnic Azeris.

“The liberation of Iran is more important to for us — almost more than for the United States,” he said. “Iran is trying to influence Azerbaijan. This is very dangerous for us.”

Mr. Gambar also appealed to the Senate to pass a resolution similar to one adopted by the House in support of democracy in Azerbaijan. He believes he got a commitment from Sen. Sam Brownback to support a Senate measure. The Kansas Republican co-chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, the joint congressional human rights committee.

Mr. Gambar also addressed the American Enterprise Institute and met with members of the National Security Council and National Democratic Institute.

He said he wanted to correct the “misconception” about Mr. Aliyev.

“Several people think Aliyev is a reformer” surrounded by corrupt supporters, Mr. Gambar said. “He is at the top of the pyramid.”

Mr. Gambar noted, for example, that Mr. Aliyev in May ordered officials to ensure fair elections and compile an accurate voter list for public release 60 days before the balloting. With 40 days to go in the campaign, no list has been released.

Money for prisons

The U.S. ambassador to Liberia yesterday said Washington wants to help rebuild the unsanitary and overcrowded prisons in a nation torn apart by years of civil war.

“U.S. funds will be used to make the correctional facilities more secure and to enhance the protection of vulnerable groups in custody by providing separate areas where women and children and those will mental health problems can be kept,” Ambassador Donald Booth told reporters.

He announced a $600,000 grant to renovate Monrovia’s Central Prison complex.

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

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