>From Moscow exile, ex-Azerbaijan president laments politics in homeland
by Simon Ostrovsky

Agence France Presse -- English
May 7, 2005 Saturday 2:13 AM GMT

MOSCOW May 7 -- He was the first post-Soviet president of Azerbaijan,
and from his exile in Moscow today Ayaz Mutalibov says the oil-rich
republic's current rulers resist his return because they fear him as
a viable opponent in November's parliamentary elections.

"The fact that I can't take part in the social and political life
of my country as a citizen is total nonsense, and it depends on the
authorities who prefer to keep me away by any means," Mutalibov said
in an interview with AFP here earlier this week.

Mutalibov, who has lived in Moscow without so much as a passport ever
since a nationalist coalition forced him to resign in the turbulent
days following the collapse of the Soviet Union, said the current Azeri
authorities were personally unwilling "to have a political opponent."

Sitting on billons of dollars worth of proven oil deposits, Azerbaijan
has become a key link in a US-backed energy corridor that spans Turkey
and Central Asia on one hand and separates Russia from traditional
ties to regimes in the Middle East on the other.

Tensions between the Azeri opposition and the regime of President
Ilham Aliyev are heating up in the run up to the November elections
with the opposition and rights groups alleging that the government
is stifling freedoms necessary to guarantee a legitimate vote.

Observers fear the election could turn into a repeat of the 2003
presidential elections when Aliyev replaced his ailing father as
president after a contested poll, leading to mass protests and clashes
with police, in the former Soviet Union's first dynastic succession
of leaders.

Mutalibov, who is wanted in Azerbaijan on murky charges alleging that
he did not do enough to prevent a massacre of Azeris by Armenians
during the Nagorny Karabakh war, is one of many political emigrants
afraid to return to their homeland.

A co-chairman of the Social Democratic party, Mutalibov has joined a
block of four parties called New Politics which has announced it will
field single candidates for the vote, but complains the government
has put in place barriers to prevent candidates from registering for
the poll.

The ex-president called on Europe's top human rights body, the Council
of Europe, to facilitate his return to the country so he could take
part in the elections.

As a member of the organization, Azerbaijan "should not have political
prisoners or political emigrants," Mutalibov said.

He said he didn't have ambitions to return to the presidency, adding
however that political parties are created, "with the goal of coming
to power eventually."

New Politics has also said it would support Azerbaijan's former
parliamentary speaker Rasul Guliyev, who currently resides in the
United States and faces corruption charges at home, in an electoral
bid.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has
hinted that the situation in the country's media and its electoral
code could jeopardize a fair vote if changes are not made quickly.

The Council of Europe, said in April the elections would be a fork
in the road where "we may become witnesses either to fair and free
elections or a bloody confrontation between thousands."