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Bush praises Azerbaijan's president, despite spotty record
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON — President Bush praised Azerbaijan's president Friday despite human-rights problems documented by the State Department, and he said the country has a "very important role to play" in meeting global energy needs.
Bush met in the Oval Office with President Ilham Aliev, who succeeded his father 2 ½ years ago in a ballot that the State Department said suffered from "numerous, serious irregularities."
With Aliev sitting in an armchair next to him, Bush held out Azerbaijan as "a modern Muslim country that is able to provide for its citizens, that understands that democracy is the wave of the future."
The meeting demonstrated the difficulty the administration faces as it seeks to maintain U.S. access to oil and gas supplies from countries that may be unstable or unreliable, often because of corruption or human-rights abuses.
A year ago, the country celebrated the opening of a 1,100-mile pipeline from its capital, Baku, on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia and on to a Mediterranean port in Turkey. The event was important enough to the U.S. that Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman attended.
The pipeline creates a link that avoids Iran, Russia and neighboring Armenia to carry 1 million barrels of oil a day to Western markets by 2008.
Several times Bush expressed his appreciation to Aliev, thanking him for support in the war in Iraq and for his help in achieving "what we all want, which is energy security."
Aliev succeeded his father, Heydar A. Aliev, in October 2003, in an election that also drew sharp criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe for ballot-stuffing and a falsified vote count.
He said in fluent English that his three-day U.S. visit would be important in developing Azerbaijan as "a modern, secular, democratic country," which, he said, shares "the same values" as the United States.
The annual State Department human-rights report issued in March recognized generally effective efforts by civilian authorities to control the security forces and acknowledged the president had instructed "national and local government officials to comply with international election standards" in last November's parliamentary elections.
But, it said, "the government's human rights record remained poor, and it continued to commit numerous abuses."
The report cited "torture and beating of persons in custody, leading to four deaths," as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of political opponents, harsh prison conditions and corruption in the judiciary.
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