Azeri Debate Gets Violent as Aliyev Opponent Ducks Bottle, Barbs

Azerbaijan’s sole opposition candidate for president endured screaming insults, fist-pounding and a hurled bottle as he squared off against nine pro-government challengers in a televised debate.

Camil Hasanli escaped injury when Muasir Musavat party leader Hafiz Haciyev’s bottle missile from 2 meters away came up short and ricocheted off their round table late yesterday. Haciyev was trying to stop Hasanli from criticizing President Ilham Aliyev for the lavish villas he reportedly owns in Dubai.

“I will destroy you,” Haciyev screamed before hurling the plastic container. “You let your daughter marry an Englishman. You are trying to stage a revolution here with the help of the English.”

Aliyev, 51, who succeeded his late father in disputed elections 10 years ago, is seeking a third term in the Oct. 9 poll. The Caspian Sea country of 9 million predominately Shiite Muslims, nestled between Russia, Iran and Turkey, is the third-largest oil supplier in the former Soviet Union.

Other candidates, including Aliyev’s proxy in the debate, Ali Ahmadov, drowned out Hasanli, 61, as he raised a handful of documents that he said showed some of Aliyev’s undeclared business interests abroad.

“Dear viewers, you saw what kind of person Camil Hasanli is,” Ahmadov shouted. “You saw his culture and morals.”

Ear Bounty

The National Council of Democratic Forces, a coalition of opposition groups, nominated Hasanli, a history professor, just last month. The alliance’s initial choice, Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibrahimbayov, was disqualified for holding Russian citizenship. Russia denied Ibrahimbayov’s request for a quick annulment of his passport, saying the process may take as long as a year by law.

The Washington Post reported in 2010, citing Dubai property records, that Aliyev’s only son, then 12, bought nine waterfront mansions on the Palm Jumeirah man-made island for a total of $44 million. Aliyev has never denied the report.

Azerbaijan ranks among the most repressive countries in the world, in part for its intolerance toward opposition groups, according to Freedom House, a Washington-based democracy advocate partly funded by the U.S. government.

Aliyev’s government is engaged in a “deliberate” and “abusive” strategy to limit dissent before the presidential election, Human Rights Watch said Sept. 2. The New York-based group also reported a “dramatic” deterioration in the government’s record on freedom of expression, assembly, and association in the last 18 months.

In February, Haciyev, the bottle thrower, offered $13,000 to any member of his party who would cut an ear off opposition writer Akram Aylisli. He later rescinded the bounty under international pressure, including from the U.S. embassy in Baku.

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