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Censorship, Intimidation: New Government Resembles Old With AM-Azerbaijan,

June 30, 1993

Censorship, Intimidation: New Government Resembles Old With AM-Azerbaijan, AM-Azerbaijan-Chronology

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) _ The blank front page of the newspaper Mukhalifat - Opposition - spoke volumes this week about how the new leaders of this former Soviet republic are taking Azerbaijan back to the future.

So did the reports of intimidation of those who have protested against the military coup that drove the elected president from power.

Such tactics were not seen under President Abulfaz Elcibey, a writer and former dissident who fled the capital June 18.

But cracking down on dissent is nothing new for 70-year-old Geidar Aliev, Azerbaijan’s former KGB chief and Communist Party boss, who retook the reins of power last week.

This former Soviet republic had made important strides toward democracy over the past year despite political tension stemming from the war with Armenians over Nagorno-Karabakh, which erupted in 1988.

War and drastic swings in political fortunes are a feature of life in the Caucasus mountains region, where Georgia is battling separatists and senior government ministers in Armenia have lost power, mainly over Nagorno-Karabakh.

But Azerbaijan seems even more unstable: uncertain of its Muslim heritage, susceptible to influence from Iran and Turkey, and unable to capitalize on its important oil reserves.

Aliev has quickly demonstrated that he has lost none of the manipulative skills that took him all the way to the former Soviet Politburo.

After three days of closed-door discussions on divvying up power, he announced Wednesday that rebel chief Surat Huseynov was named prime minister. Elcibey’s ouster by Huseynov, 34, paved the way for Aliev’s return.

It was not immediately clear how Aliev fared in the power-sharing deal, although he remains acting president and speaker of parliament.

Elcibey was elected president in June 1992 in Azerbaijan’s first democratic elections. But his popularity dwindled quickly because of economic difficulties and military defeat in the five-year war with Armenians over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Stripped of his powers by parliament and living in virtual exile in the remote southwest, Elcibey still considers himself the legal head of state. Many Azerbaijanis, however, expressed support Wednesday for the new government.

″Aliev will end the war and restore the economy. ... What system is used to achieve stability is not important at the moment. We just want an end to the chaos under Elcibey,″ said Garkhmaz Huseynov, a 24-year-old student.

Aliev rejects charges that he is reimposing the old Communist system. ″Democracy will continue, even stronger than before,″ he said.

But since his return, Azerbaijani television has stopped carrying statements from Elcibey and a virtual news blackout has descended on the country.

Television instead has been transmitting flattering documentaries of Aliev, who is hailed as the ″builder of modern Azerbaijan.″

There was no mention of the secrecy surrounding Aliev’s huddles with Huseynov. Likewise, the humiliating loss of territory to advancing Armenian armies in western Azerbaijan has received scant attention.

Instead, there are reruns of the frequent news conferences staged by Aliev, in which he refuses to answer serious questions and nods sympathetically when women take the microphone and yell about the injustices under Elcibey.

The new government banned publication Tuesday of Azadlyg - Freedom - the newspaper of Elcibey’s Popular Front, according to the independent Nega news service, based in Moscow.

Censorship has been accompanied by reports of widespread intimidation.

Last week, unidentified gunmen opened fire on three gatherings of pro- Elcibey demonstrators in the capital.

Deputy Ibrahim Ibrahimov had his vehicle shot up shortly after he refused to join a parliamentary commission set up to investigate a clash between government troops and Huseynov’s fighters in early June. Ibrahimov said the commission was biased against Elcibey.

Nega reported that top officials of the ousted government were not being allowed to leave the country.

And another former Azerbaijani KGB chief, Vagif Huseynov - no relation to the new prime minister - was released Wednesday for what officials said were health reasons, state media reported. He had been jailed since November for his role in putting down a nationalist and anti-Soviet rebellion in 1990.

Update hourly