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US delegation in Azerbaijan, praises alliance

BAKU - From online dispatches | 4/28/2011 12:00:00 AM |

A US congressional delegation heading to Azerbaijan says they intend to thank Azerbaijan for being a strong ally, while pushing for democracy.

Members of a United States congressional delegation visiting Azerbaijan on Thursday thanked the country for being a strong U.S. ally and said they hoped to push “democratic institutions” there.

"The U.S. is satisfied with Azerbaijan's activity in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo, as well as ensuring the energy security of the West," William Shuster, U.S. representative and co-chairman of the U.S. Congressional Azerbaijan Caucus, was quoted as saying by Trend News Agency.

Shuster and his delegation had earlier held meetings in Baku with Azerbaijani First Deputy Speaker Ziyafet Askerov and Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of International and Interparliamentary Relations Samad Seyidov.

In an interview prior to his trip, Shuster emphasized the importance of Azerbaijan’s alliance with the United States.

“First and foremost, I think it is important that we thank the Azerbaijani government and the president for their great friendship. They have been a great ally since they broke away from the Soviet Union in the 1990s,” Shuster told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, or RFE/RL, in an interview published on Wednesday. “They have been one of our staunchest allies in the world; with a neighbor to the south, Iran, and the Russians to the north, it is a very, very difficult neighborhood and yet they still turn to the U.S. as a friend and an ally.”

Azerbaijan in recent weeks has seen opposition members and youth demonstrators, often organized through social networks, stage protests calling for democratic reforms. The government of President Ilham Aliyev, who took power in 2003 after the death of his father and former President Heydar Aliyev, responded with arrests of key opposition leaders. On Tuesday, the offices of the Azerbaijani opposition Musavat Party were raided in Baku by police and investigators, RFE/RL reported.

“We will hopefully have a meeting with the president and reinforce the need to make sure their democratic institutions are intact and their elections are free and fair, because at the end of the day the American people are going to judge a country, an ally of ours, based on those things,” said Shuster.

U.S. Representative Christopher Murphy, who is also part of the six-person congressional delegation heading for Azerbaijan, said it was the first time any of them, except for Shuster, would visit Azerbaijan.

“It is important to be [in Azerbaijan], especially since it is a country that is so importantly politically positioned but often doesn't get as much attention from the United States Congress as it should,” Murphy said told RFE/RL.



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