Protesters Rally Against Azerbaijani Government
By Aida Sultanova
Sunday, June 5, 2005; Page A24
BAKU, Azerbaijan, June 4 -- About 10,000 protesters chanting "Freedom!" marched across Azerbaijan's capital Saturday, urging the government of this U.S. ally to step down and allow free parliamentary elections this year. Some of them carried portraits of President Bush.
The rally in Baku was the largest opposition demonstration in the former Soviet republic since October 2003, when one person died and nearly 200 were injured in clashes between police and demonstrators protesting vote-rigging in a presidential election.
Tensions have been building in this Caspian Sea nation in the run-up to parliamentary elections set for November. Some observers predict that Azerbaijan could experience a massive uprising similar to those that toppled unpopular governments in three other former Soviet countries -- Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan -- in the past 18 months.
Supporters of several opposition parties chanted "Freedom!" and "Free Elections!" while holding placards with such slogans as "Down with robber government!" Placards with Bush's image included the call, "We want freedom!"
The rally was intended to draw attention to the opposition's push for election law reforms before the parliamentary vote and for access to state-controlled television. The opposition parties have accused authorities of rigging the 2003 presidential election in which President Ilham Aliyev succeeded his late father, Heydar Aliyev.
"Not only the opposition, but all people need democratic changes," Ali Kerimli, leader of the People's Front of Azerbaijan, said at the rally. "We demand free elections, and if the conditions for the free elections are not created, every village, every bloc will demand the government's resignation."
Aliyev's government "will never allow free elections, and it will mean its end," said opposition leader Panakh Huseinli. "The revolution is inevitable."
About 400 police officers in riot gear stood guard around a central square where protesters gathered, but they did not intervene and the rally ended peacefully.
Two weeks ago, police beat back opposition protesters who tried to hold a banned rally in Baku. Dozens were arrested.
Authorities in Baku initially refused the request from the People's Front of Azerbaijan, the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan and the Musavat party to allow Saturday's downtown rally, suggesting they instead hold it on the outskirts of the city. But after opposition leaders rejected that offer Friday, pledging to gather in downtown Baku anyway, authorities decided to approve it.
Azerbaijan, an oil-exporting, mostly Muslim country of about 8 million people, is the starting point of a new pipeline that officials in Washington say will reduce dependence on oil from the Middle East. The country is also a U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, with troops in Iraq.
Russian 'spy ring' held in Georgia
28 September 2006
Georgian authorities have detained four Russian military officers accused of spying while troops from the country's Interior Ministry surrounded Russian military headquarters in Tbilisi to demand the handover of a fifth alleged Russian spy.
The Russians were arrested in the Georgian capital and the Black Sea port of Batumi on charges of espionage. Col Alexander Sava, one of the men held in Tbsili, was the alleged leader of the spy ring, Vano Merabishvili, the Georgian Interior Minister said. He said Col Sava had been responsible for a mine explosion that killed three police officers in the town of Gori in February 2005.
Twelve Georgian citizens were also detained as part of the same "very dangerous" spy chain, he said. Georgian authorities arrested the suspects to prevent a "serious provocation", Mr Merabishvili said: "They showed a particular interest in Georgia's defence capability, its programs of integration into Nato, energy security, political parties and organisations."
Russian deputy minister of foreign affairs Grigory Karasin said the arrests marked the "latest in a series of gross insults that affirm the anti-Russian policy of the Georgian leadership," a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry Web site said.
Russia-Georgia media war escalates
Friday, 29 September 2006
As the crisis mounts between Russia and Georgia over spying charges, both countries' media are playing a role in stoking tensions.
Georgia has arrested four Russian army officers and 11 Georgians, accusing them of spying for Russia's GRU military intelligence.
The incident comes against a backdrop of tension over two pro-Russian separatist regions - Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
A Georgian interior ministry video allegedly showing Russian officers conspiring with Georgians and exchanging money made headlines in both countries' television news bulletins.
But the media in both countries gave the grainy pictures and sound recordings an entirely different spin.
Georgian Imedi TV ran the full eight-minute compilation of video and audio recordings, saying this was firm evidence of Russian military intelligence activity in Georgia.
It included secretly recorded footage of suspected agents meeting their handlers, money changing hands and audio recordings of telephone conversations between the spy suspects.
Russian television channels showed selected excerpts and allowed TV commentators to belittle their importance.
The late-night news on Russia TV International said the video clips showed the servicemen "in various situations... for example in a cafe with a glass of Georgian wine. The authenticity of this evidence is doubtful, to put it mildly."
Channel One TV said that from the audio evidence, it "was difficult to say what illegal action was being committed".
All week one Georgian television station has been repeatedly showing a short film telling a fictional story of reconciliation between ethnic Georgians and South Ossetians after a failed attempt by Russian peacekeepers to instigate conflict.
The five-minute film, accompanied by emotional music, tells the story of an Ossetian rebel's sister engaged to a Georgian officer.
The two eventually marry amid scenes of Georgians and Ossetians feasting together, while a Russian officer looks on in disgust.
Russia's state TV channels and NTV led with the crisis in their evening news bulletins and all featured Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov's advice to Russians in Georgia to stay at home because "banditry in Georgia has reached state proportions".
On Russia TV, Mr Ivanov likened the current situation in Georgia to 1937, the year of Stalin's purges, while Channel One quoted him as saying that the incident was aimed at discrediting Russia's peacekeepers and ultimately forcing them out of Georgia.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov laid the blame squarely at Georgia's door. He told independent Ren TV that Georgia was "probably" attempting to provoke a more serious conflict to bolster its plans to solve the crisis of its separatist regions by force.
Some Russian newspapers were furious with the Georgians. "No-one should dare to trample on the dignity of a defender of the fatherland. The Russian commander-in-chief and defence ministry should firmly declare that such infringements cannot go unpunished," said Moskovskiye Novosti, a liberal weekly. [..]
Russia's Kommersant daily speculated that delays in Georgia winning Nato membership had prompted Tbilisi to spark the crisis.
"It seems Tbilisi has taken the start of 'intensive dialogue' with Nato as a carte blanche for increasingly active anti-Russian moves. It seems that since yesterday Russia has also finally made up its mind - it will achieve a change in the current regime in Georgia at any price."
Moscow maintains Georgia blockade
3 October 2006
Russia is pressing ahead with a freeze on vital transport and economic links with Georgia, despite the release of four men accused of spying for Moscow. [..]
The four men were released and returned to Moscow on Monday, to be greeted by Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov. [..] Mr Ivanov personally welcomed the returning officials.
"I thank you for your courage and the honour, characteristic of Russian officers, that you displayed," Interfax news agency quotes him as saying.
The US has meanwhile urged both Russia and Georgia to ease tensions.
"This is a moment, we hope, with the Russians returned, for Russia and Georgia to step back, lower the rhetoric and hopefully work together," a state department official said.
[..] Announcing the officers' transfer, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said he wanted good relations with Russia, but Georgia could no longer be treated as a "the second-class backyard of... some kind of re-emerging empire".
Russia had been using intimidation and blackmail, he said [..] "The message to our great neighbour Russia is: 'Enough is enough,'" he said. [..]
Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by accusing Georgia of "state terrorism" and trying to provoke Moscow, which still has military bases in Georgia from Soviet times when it was part of the USSR.
Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have deteriorated sharply since Georgia and Nato agreed to hold talks on closer relations, correspondents say. [..]
Our regional analyst notes that Georgia is already affected by a Russian ban on its top three agricultural exports - wine, mineral water and mandarin oranges.
But Mr Saakashvili, he adds, will also be aware that Russia has another, much more powerful economic weapon - energy supplies.
Georgia remains totally dependent on supplies of Russian gas and there are already warnings that heat and light could disappear from parts of Georgia unless the diplomatic crisis is resolved quickly.
Anti-Georgia campaign heats up in Russia
Wed Oct 4
Yahoo! News (Associated Press)
[..] President Vladimir Putin told lawmakers Wednesday that no country should get away with threatening Russia, setting the stage for passage of a motion fiercely condemning Georgia's pro-Western leadership.
"I would not counsel anyone to talk to Russia in the language of provocations and blackmail," Putin said, adding that he was speaking specifically about Georgia. [..]
Russian police, meanwhile, were targeting the large Georgian Diaspora in Moscow with raids of businesses and restaurants.
Parliament was to vote later this week on a motion targeting money sent home by Georgians.
The moves appeared aimed at punishing Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili for defying Russia by arresting the officers last week. More broadly, Moscow has been alarmed by Georgia's goal of joining NATO and the growing U.S. influence in Russia's former Soviet backyard.
Russia has rejected Western calls to end the transport and postal blockade on the former Soviet Republic. The sanctions came despite Georgia's release Monday of the Russian officers.
"The range of measures are a response to the situation and consequently their duration will depend on how long the hostile rhetoric (of the Georgian leadership) continues," Modest Kolerov, a Russian official charged with regional relations, was quoted as saying Wednesday by the Gazeta.ru news Web site.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said the measures were aimed at cutting off money that he claimed was being used by the Georgian leadership to increase its military might in preparation for the seizure of two pro-Russian breakaway regions.
Authorities Tuesday closed a popular casino run by Georgians in the Russian capital, saying it didn't have authorization for its casino tables and slot machines. They also raided a hotel and two restaurants run by Georgians, saying they could be closed for legal violations.
The Kommersant daily quoted police officials as saying that 40 Georgian restaurants and shops in downtown Moscow would be raided in the next few days. [..]
The Russian Consulate in Tbilisi, meanwhile, has stopped issuing visas to Georgians.
"In Russia, the patriotic campaign has begun," Kommersant wrote on its front page above photographs of posters of Saakashvili with a Hitler-like mustache, which pro-Kremlin youth activists brandished at a rally in August outside the Georgian Embassy in Moscow. [..]
At the United Nations, Russia ratcheted up diplomatic pressure on Georgia by circulating a draft Security Council resolution Tuesday that would link the future of a U.N. observer mission with demands that Georgia stop "provocative actions" over Abkhazia.
Russia' draft resolution is a break with standard practice because it links what would normally be a routine extension of the U.N. Observer Force in Georgia to the recent tensions. The mission's mandate expires Oct. 15.
Georgia sent government forces into the Kodori Gorge, a section of Abkhazia, in August to reassert control over the region. [..]
Putin fury at Georgia 'blackmail'
Wednesday, 4 October 20
President Vladimir Putin has warned Georgia not to use the "language of provocation and blackmail" against Russia in a speech in parliament.
The Duma went on to vote overwhelmingly for a motion echoing Mr Putin's condemnation of "anti-Russian" and "anti-democratic" policies in Tbilisi. [..]
The motion passed by the Duma accuses Georgia of violating human rights and advocates further economic and financial sanctions.
[..] Russian media say that the interior ministry has told the police to take tough actions against Georgian organisations and businesses.
The head of the Georgian Society of Russia, Vladimir Khomeriki, accused politicians of going against a long tradition of friendship between the two nations.
"Politicians seem to have an interest in pitting our nations against each other," he told Reuters news agency.
He argued that as two Orthodox Christian nations, they had historically faced down threats from Muslim neighbours Turkey and Persia (Iran).
"Georgia is linked to Russia through common history, faith, culture and centuries-old friendship... and also common economic and geopolitical interests," he said. [..]
Russian Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov said Russia could speed up the withdrawal of its troops from Georgia because of the current tensions.
"We understand the conditions our servicemen are living in," he said.
In a deal signed last year, Russia pledged to withdraw its 3,000-4,000 troops from Georgia by the end of 2008. [..]
Russia piles more pressure on Georgia but rules out force
06 October 2006
Russia has tightened the economic noose around Georgia, escalating a bitter dispute but ruling out use of military force against its neighbour. In the latest twist to a row which broke out when Georgia arrested four Russian military officers, Moscow has frozen work permits for Georgians and closed a casino owned by Georgian businessmen.
[..] Georgians also face the prospect of paying more for their energy, because Gazprom, the Russian monopoly, is poised to increase the price of gas supplied to Georgia.
Unofficial reports suggested that Gazprom wants to raise 2007 prices from its $110 (£59) to between $170 and $250 per 1,000 cubic metres. But is is unclear whether this was linked directly to the crisis, since they were negotiating on energy prices before the row broke out.
But the work permit ban could hit hard because the Georgian economy is heavily dependent on its Soviet-era partner. A fifth of Georgia's 4.4 million population work in Russia, many sending their earnings home to support families.
One senior Georgian diplomat suggested that the rift could lead to military conflict. Zurab Tchiaberashvili, the Georgian ambassador to the Council of Europe, said: "We have a cold war in the Caucasus and we fear that this cold war will transform into a hot war which will threaten peace and security in the region."
But asked about the possibility of the use of the military, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Yakovenko said: "Of course there can't be any talk about it." But there was no let-up in the war of words between the two sides and Mr Yakovenko said Moscow would ease the pressure on the Georgian president, Mikhail Saakashvili, only if Tbilisi changed its attitude.
He said: "Russia does not want to be provoked; Russia wants to be respected. Russia wants the anti-Russian campaign to stop. If Sakaashvili's regime changes such policies, then this would be a different conversation."
Thomas Gomart, head of the Russia programme for the French Institute of Foreign Relations, said: [..] "The government in Georgia was already in a weak position because of the impact of internal reforms. The Russian economic blockage will weaken it further and could provoke instability".
Georgia chides Russia 'cleansing'
7 October 2006
Russia's treatment of Georgians during the diplomatic spat between the two countries is a "mild form of ethnic cleansing", Georgia has said. [..]
Russia has closed transport and postal links with Georgia, raided businesses, imposed visa restrictions and deported 132 Georgians since the dispute began.
The sanctions were imposed on the day Georgia released four Russian officers it had arrested on spying charges.
[..] A planeload of Georgian deportees arrived in Tbilisi on Friday after they were rounded up in police raids and accused of immigration offences.
Meanwhile a Russian plane took more Russians out of Georgia, which Moscow says is now unsafe for its citizens.
Russian media reports that Moscow's police have asked schools to draw up lists of pupils with Georgian surnames as part of their search for illegal immigrants.
Alexander Gavrilov, a spokesman for the Moscow education department, said some schools had received the request, which he criticised.
But a Russian interior ministry spokesman denied the request had been made.
[..] Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday urged Europe's security body to pressure Georgia to "drastically change its course" in dealing with regional disputes.
In a letter to the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Mr Putin accused Tbilisi of planning to solve the conflicts between Russia and Georgia over the two troubled Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force.
Tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi have grown since the early 1990s, with Tbilisi accusing Moscow of supporting separatists in Abkhazia and South Ossetia following the collapse of the USSR.
EU ministers to criticise Russia over Georgia actions
EU foreign ministers meeting next week are set to strongly criticise Russia for recent actions taken against Georgia unless relations between the two improve in the meantime.
Draft conclusions signed off by EU ambassadors yesterday [..] refer to [how] "The Council expresses its grave concern at the measures adopted
by the Russian Federation against Georgia and at their economic, political and humanitarian consequences."
The draft statement continues by urging Moscow "not to pursue measures targeting Georgians in the Russian Federation."
The statements are due to be endorsed by the bloc's foreign ministers on Monday (16 October) at their regular monthly meeting and were prompted by Russia's decision to stop issuing visas, deport Georgians already in Russia as well as cut transport and postal links with the Caucasus country. [..]
The foreign ministers' criticism is due just three days before Russian president Vladimir Putin joins EU leaders for a summit in Finland on Friday and also takes place within the long shadow cast by the murder of prominent Putin-critic and investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
The EU leaders meeting is set to be a study in practical diplomacy with member states on the one hand mindful of the poor human rights record in Russia but equally mindful of how dependent they are on their giant neighbour for energy supplies.
UN urges Georgia not to 'provoke'
Friday, 13 October 2006
The UN Security Council has unanimously adopted a resolution urging Georgia to refrain from provocative action in the breakaway region of Abkhazia.
The resolution also renewed the mandate of a UN mission in Abkhazia which began after the region split in the 1990s.
Tensions rose in July when Georgian troops entered Abkhazia's remote Kodori Gorge to drive out a rebel militia.
Russia had urged a stronger resolution to criticise Georgia for its presence in the Kodori Gorge. [..]
The Georgian government has been consolidating its position in the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, the only area of Abkhazia which it controls, says the BBC's Matthew Collin in Tbilisi, Georgia's capital.
The separatists have raised fears that it could be used as a base for invasion, our correspondent says.
After taking control of the gorge in July, Tbilisi announced plans to set up a headquarters for Abkhazia's "legitimate government" there.
Russia has condemned the Georgian deployment in the gorge as a "serious violation of the 1994 Moscow ceasefire agreement", which halted fighting between Georgian and Abkhaz separatist forces. [..]
Tbilisi has accused Russian troops in the breakaway regions of supporting the separatists in order to undermine President Mikhail Saakashvili's pro-Western government.
Georgia has demanded that Russia withdraw its troops from Abkhazia and another breakaway region - South Ossetia.
Moscow insists that its troops are peacekeepers, needed to prevent a resumption of hostilities.
Relations between Georgia and Russia worsened last month when Georgia briefly arrested four Russian officers on spying charges. [..]
A whole inflated enemy image is being created.
October 4, 2006
EU High Representative Solana acknowledged that Kosovo's campaign for independence could set a precedent for Georgia's breakaway regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia. "We are trapped here," he told the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. "President Saakashvili is trapped, all of us are trapped in a double mechanism that may have good consequences for one, but not for the other."
Solana said Saakashvili had also "complained" about the format of the negotiations it is currently involved in with South Ossetia -- where it is faced by Russia and its autonomous area of North Ossetia alongside South Ossetia.
According to Solana, Saakashvili would prefer the format used in Moldova for talks with Transdniester, where the European Union and the United States participate as observers, and Ukraine is also a participant.
But, Solana said, "for the moment it is difficult to do that," adding that the talks framework for Moldova "is not working very well either."
Responding to a question by Estonian deputy Toomas Hendrik Ilves suggesting the EU send peacekeepers to Georgia, Solana also said Saakashvili had made that request during their conversation.
However, Solana said no. He said today it would be a "very difficult decision" for the EU, and that the EU could not respond positively "at the moment." France, Germany, Italy, and a number of other EU member states have long blocked moves to send EU monitors to Georgia's borders, in fear of angering Russia.
EU ministers warn Putin over Georgia
18 October 2006
Europe set the scene for a showdown with Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, at a summit this week, after it made a blunt call on Moscow to stop its harassment of Georgians.
A toughly worded statement agreed by EU foreign ministers urged Russia "not to pursue measures targeting Georgians in the Russian Federation."
However France and Greece, which led efforts to tone down the text, agreed to it only when it also made reference to a United Nations resolution which called for restraint from Georgia.
Yesterday's communiqué, which was stronger than expected, comes just three days before Mr Putin attends a dinner with EU leaders at their summit in Lahti in Finland. Poland and other former Soviet-bloc nations made clear their determination to take Moscow to task both over Georgia and human rights following the murder of the campaigning journalist Anna Politkovskaya. [..]
[T]he EU's foreign policy supremo, Javier Solana, said it would be "very difficult" to avoid discussion of the fatal shooting of Ms Politkovskaya.
Mr Putin has suggested her killers might have been out to stain his government and insists they will be punished.
Russian diplomats believe that Friday's summit will be dominated by energy issues rather than human rights or Georgia.
Elections for Statewide offices and Congress
Primary: Tuesday 18 July 2006
Runoff: Lt. Gov (D); Secretary of State (D,R); Comm of Agr (R); CD 4 (D): Tuesday 8 August 2006
General Election: Tuesday 7 November 2006
General Election Runoff: Tuesday 5 December 2006
Electoral Votes: 15 (2.79% of 538)
Senators: 2 (Electoral Classes 2 and 3)
2002-2010 Representatives: 13 (2.99% of 435)
2000 Census: 8,206,975 (2.91% of 281,998,273)
Estimated Voting age population (November 2000): 5,893,000
Registered Voters (November 2000): 3,859,960
Tuesday 18 July 2006 polling hours 7:00a EDT (1100 UTC) to 7:00p EDT (2300 UTC).
Tuesday 8 August 2006 polling hours 7:00a EDT (1100 UTC) to 7:00p EDT (2300 UTC).
Tuesday 7 November 2006 polling hours 7:00a EST (1200 UTC) to 7:00p EST (0000 UTC).
Tuesday 5 December 2006 polling hours 7:00a EST (1200 UTC) to 7:00p EST (0000 UTC).