Azeri opposition ‘stuck in the past,’ Aliyev’s aide says

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A senior Azeri official has accused his country’s opposition of being “old-minded” in defending freedoms in the oil-rich nation ahead of elections that seems likely to return President İlham Aliyev to power for a third straight term.

Human rights activists have accused authorities of stepping up a campaign to stifle the opposition and restrict freedoms. A recent report by the campaign group Human Rights Watch said Baku had intensified a crackdown on activists and journalists to stifle criticism of long-term leader Aliyev before presidential elections on Oct. 9.

But government official Elnur Aslanov dismissed the allegations, saying every citizen had democratic freedoms.

A senior Azeri official has accused his country’s opposition of being “old-minded” in defending freedoms in the oil-rich nation ahead of elections that seems likely to return President İlham Aliyev to power for a third straight term.

Human rights activists have accused authorities of stepping up a campaign to stifle the opposition and restrict freedoms. A recent report by the campaign group Human Rights Watch said Baku had intensified a crackdown on activists and journalists to stifle criticism of long-term leader Aliyev before presidential elections on Oct. 9.

Elnur Aslanov, the head of the Political Analysis and Information Provision Department of the Azerbaijani Presidency, has dismissed allegations and said every citizen enjoys democratic freedoms.
“There are around 300 daily newspapers and most of them are not pro-government. There are hundreds of Internet sites, both pro-government and pro-opposition; each side can express their own views. The Internet creates the conditions for freedom of thought,” Aslanov told the Hürriyet Daily News in a recent interview, giving the example of Twitter users who have been tried for their posts in other countries.

‘Never afraid’

Nearly 5 million voters will go to ballots next week. Camil Hasanli, Aliyev’s main challenger, was nominated last month by the National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition parties. The group’s initial choice, Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov, was disqualified from running because he holds Russian citizenship.

“Are we afraid of the opposition as the government? Never. There should be an opposition and alternative thoughts but they fail to offer alternative policies in economics, foreign policy and the like,” Aslanov said, accusing the opposition of being “old-minded” with policies that date from the 1980s.

“They have said the same thing for 25 years, and they have not been embraced by the new generation,” Aslanov said, while praising the Aliyev administration’s performance in the last 10 years. “In the last decade, we reduced the rate of poverty from 50 percent to 6 percent and increased the budget from 2 billion euros to 24 billion,” he said.

Aslanov also criticized the rights groups that deliberately target the administration. “Every five years, during the time when elections are approaching, issues of freedom, human rights and the rights of the opposition are brought up for discussion. One year ago, these things were not on the agenda of these groups,” he said, putting the blame on the Armenian diaspora, which he accused of being behind the organizations.

“An open and transparent election is in our interest because we are confident of victory,” he said.

 

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