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June 5, 2005
Wave Of Democratization -- And Bush As Icon -- Reaches Azerbaijan

Another former Soviet republic threatens to join Georgia and Ukraine, with popular demands for democracy and electoral reforms rattling the Azerbaijani authoritarian government. A demonstration of 10,000 in the streets of Baku, on the Caspian Sea, demanded that their parliament enact reforms allowing for free elections to replace the current head of state, who succeeded his father in widely discounted elections two years ago:

About 10,000 protesters chanting "Freedom!" marched across Azerbaijan's capital Saturday, urging the government of this U.S. ally to step down and allow free parliamentary elections this year. Some of them carried portraits of President Bush.

The rally in Baku was the largest opposition demonstration in the former Soviet republic since October 2003, when one person died and nearly 200 were injured in clashes between police and demonstrators protesting vote-rigging in a presidential election.

Tensions have been building in this Caspian Sea nation in the run-up to parliamentary elections set for November. Some observers predict that Azerbaijan could experience a massive uprising similar to those that toppled unpopular governments in three other former Soviet countries -- Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan -- in the past 18 months.

Supporters of several opposition parties chanted "Freedom!" and "Free Elections!" while holding placards with such slogans as "Down with robber government!" Placards with Bush's image included the call, "We want freedom!"

Note especially the iconography, which has been popular throughout the region with democratic activists. Bush has literally become the poster boy for this rising tide of grassroots activism throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia. The power of his words at his last inauguration had been widely discounted by his political opposition and a good part of the American media -- but it has not gone unheeded by those looking for liberty and freedom.

Geopolitically, it might be tough for the administration to go public with support. So far, despite its Muslim foundations, the Azerbaijanis have assisted the US in its war on Islamofascist terror, perhaps out of fear of its southern neighbor, Iran. The current Baku government has also agreed to build a pipeline for exporting oil to the West, a key strategic piece of energy independence from the more radical Islamic states to the south.

However, expect the Bush administration to press Baku on making enough reforms for respectable elections. It may wind up being a win with either faction, and a freely elected democracy bordering the north of Iran will help seal the Iranians' isolation and make it that much harder for them to export their own brand of radicalism and terror.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at June 5, 2005 10:18 AM

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» Mr. Bush, we want Freedom! from The Anchoress
Azerbaijan Demands Freedom! Gateway Pundit has the story, links and pictures . Thousands of opposition protesters chanted "Freedom!" and carried pictures of President Bush as they marched across Azerbaijan's capital Saturday, urging the gover... [Read More]

Tracked on June 5, 2005 3:29 PM

» More Democracy Please from A Bellandean! God, Country, Heritage
Remember Bush's Inauguraul address this past year? One of his most memorable topics was the spread of democracy globally. The left widely dismissed Bush as an idealist dreamer, while the right thought, more democracy is a good thing. [Read More]

Tracked on June 6, 2005 9:55 AM

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