Publication: Monitor Volume: 1 Issue: 135

Talks between the international consortium involved in the $8 billion oil contract in Azerbaijan and the Russian government resumed November 13 in Moscow. The object is the transportation of part of "early" Azerbaijani oil to Russia’s oil port of Novorossiisk on the Black Sea. But the talks proceeded against the background of renewed reports of gale-force winds which paralyzed Novorossiisk. Both that port and Tuapse, which is Russia’s second oil port on the Black Sea, have repeatedly come to a standstill for days at a time since October because of stormy weather conditions and a rough sea, usual for this time of the year. Local experts point out that the ports will be put out of action even more frequently during the winter, which will also impede normal access by tankers. The ports are capable of handling tankers with a displacement of only up to 145,000 tons in Novorossiisk and up to 75,000 in Tuapse–uneconomical in both cases. (10)

The weather factor affecting the Russian oil ports adds to the question marks over the project to transport part of Azerbaijan’s oil by a circuitous route via Russia, at the expense of the pipeline route via Georgia and Turkey. The Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline would moreover have to cross the turbulent North Caucasus where the Russian gas export mainline has just been blown up by a bomb, disabling a 250-meter stretch. This was the third and most serious sabotage act against that mainline this year. (11)

Azerbaijan’s Central Electoral Commission yesterday announced that the slate of governing Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party won at least 70 percent of the votes cast in the November 12 elections, and secured 18 out of the 25 parliamentary seats to be filled by proportional (party list) representation. The opposition National Independence Party and the Popular Front obtained two seats, respectively, and the Fatherland Party loyal to the authorities, one seat. Returns from the voting in the 100 single-mandate constituencies were not yet available. The new constitution received more than 90 percent of the votes cast in the constitutional referendum held concurrently with the elections. Voter turnout was more than 80 percent for both the elections and the referendum, according to the CEC.

Turkish election observers congratulated incumbent president Heydar Aliyev on what appeared to be a landslide victory in the unopposed race for the presidency. But the European Union’s and the joint OSCE/UN observer groups commented that the elections were based more on local traditions than on law or on international standards. The two groups reported administrative pressures on voters, procedural irregularities in the vote count, state media bias in favor of pro-government candidates, family voting, and other flaws. They also questioned the high voter turnout and CEC’s decisions to disqualify some parties and candidates on the grounds that they did not collect sufficient voter signatures. The opposition parties accused the authorities of using fraud and violence. The National Independence Party claimed to have received 40 – 45 percent of the votes cast, but the Popular Front claimed to have received more than 50 percent.

Meanwhile Aliyev announced that he has pardoned the group of four journalists and two typographic workers who had been sentenced to prison terms by a Baku court last month, under a law penalizing offenses to the president’s honor and dignity. Aliyev said that both the court sentence and his pardon were the right decisions to make. (12)

Tajikistan: More Reports Of Bombardments Against Villages.