Mexico panel rejects Azerbaijan leader’s statue

Updated 25 November 2012
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Mexico panel rejects Azerbaijan leader’s statue

MEXICO CITY: A commission of intellectuals recommended Friday that Mexico City’s government remove a life-size bronze statue of Azerbaijan’s former president that provoked a storm of criticism after it was installed on the capital’s main boulevard.
The Stalinesque statue of the late Geidar Aliyev was erected by the Azerbaijani Embassy, which paid for the renovation of part of the city park where it sits and other public works totaling about $5 million. Aliyev has been criticized for repressing opponents and critics.
The commission of three writers and analysts appointed by the city government said authorities erred by accepting money to allow a foreign government to essentially decide which political figures or historic events should be commemorated in the capital’s public spaces.
“In view of the majority opinions of the citizens and neighbors, the sculpture of Geidar Aliyev should be removed from the emblematic spot” on the Reforma boulevard, commission member Guillermo Osorno said.
The panel suggested that a citizen board be set up to review such proposals in the future.
“We believe that monuments or street names that are offensive, hurtful, or which make unilateral judgments on international disputes should not be installed in public spaces,” Osorno said.
Protesters have said they are offended by a monument to an authoritarian figure like Aliyev, who led Azerbaijan first as Communist Party boss during Soviet times and then as president from 1993 until his death in 2003.
Critics’ anger has been amplified by a plaque on Aliyev’s statue that describes him as “a brilliant example of infinite devotion to the motherland, loyal to the universal ideals of world peace” and by the location of the statue not far from monuments to Mahatma Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln and Mexico’s national heroes.
Writer and activist Homero Aridjis said the city government has a problem: the money it accepted from the Central Asian nation, which might have to be returned.
“The problem is the money. If it were just a political issue, they’d make the decision without any further ado,” he said.
“They have to remove the statue,” said Aridjis, who participated in protests against the monument. “They have no other choice. It would be a happy ending to a sordid story.”
Azerbaijani Ambassador Ilgar Yusif oglu Mukhtarov said that although he didn’t agree with some of the commission’s recommendations, he would discuss them with city authorities to find a resolution that everyone agreed with.
Mukhtarov charged that the government of Armenia, with which Azerbaijan has tense relations, and local Armenians were behind the campaign to remove Aliyev’s statue.
“We are aware that the current situation was driven by the Armenian government and the Armenian local diaspora in an attempt to discredit the work, life and dedication of Azerbaijan’s national leader,” Mukhtarov said a news conference.
Last month, the embassy suggested in a statement that removing the statue could affect diplomatic relations. It said the city government had signed an agreement stipulating the monument should be allowed to remain in the spot for 99 years.




The city government’s press office said authorities hadn’t made a decision yet on whether to follow the commission’s recommendation.
Mayor Marcelo Ebrard was somewhat evasive, saying, “We are going to review it carefully ... and we will reply.”
Osorno, however, said the city government has already offered Azerbaijan a cultural center where the statue could be displayed indoors. That “would be more appropriate,” he said.
The issue was particularly thorny because the city government prides itself on its progressive policies and respect for human rights. Some officials have suggested authorities weren’t really aware of who Aliyev was when the monument was approved.
The advisory commission also recommended that a second Azerbaijani-funded monument in the downtown Tlaxcoaque plaza be changed.
That statue depicts a woman, her arms uplifted in mourning, commemorating Khojaly, a village where hundreds of Azerbaijanis were reportedly killed during Azerbaijan’s conflict with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The commission said a plaque on the monument calling it “genocide” was misleading. Genocide is a term more commonly applied to the killing of about 1.5 million Armenians in the region in 1915.
Moreover, the Tlaxcoaque plaza was the site of a police torture and detention center that collapsed in Mexico City’s 1985 earthquake. The commission said it would be more appropriate to commemorate Mexicans who died there.
“We think this space should be dedicated to the victims of forced disappearance, torture and execution,” Osorno said.


Trump to honor Macron, his unlikely French friend

Updated 25 min 28 sec ago
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Trump to honor Macron, his unlikely French friend

PARIS: They talk regularly, have shared memorable handshakes and supposedly have an “unbreakable” friendship. When US President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron meet next week, there will be more back-slapping — but also major differences.
The Trump-Macron relationship has been one of the few stable elements in recent American foreign policy, with the French leader emerging as the privileged European partner for the White House.
While Trump’s relations with German Chancellor Angela Merkel have often been tetchy and he has clashed publicly with British Prime Minister Theresa May, the mercurial US leader has been consistently friendly with France’s 40-year-old centrist.
Their warm ties will be on display from Monday when Macron becomes the first foreign visitor during Trump’s term to be honored with a state visit, nine months after Trump was guest of honor during France’s national day on July 14 last year.
“The visit comes at a time of extremely close relations between France and the United States with regular and intense exchanges between the two presidents,” an aide to Macron told reporters this week.
The aim of the trip is to “continue and reinforce this dynamic,” he added.
Although their political background, age and personal lives are sharply different, the two men have bonded over their role as outsiders who outwitted their established political rivals to gain power.
“The friendship between our two nations and ourselves is unbreakable,” Trump told Macron during his trip to Paris last July, which ended with their famous 25-second-long handshake.
They have since worked closely on the fight against the Daesh group in Iraq and Syria and coordinated Western strikes on Syrian regime chemical weapons installations last weekend.
But though they have found common ground on military matters, the list of subjects where they do not see eye-to-eye is long — from climate change and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal to the role of the European Union and trade.
Furthermore, Macron never misses an opportunity to condemn the forces of right-wing nationalism and populism — which brought Trump to power — and did so again last week during a speech to the European Parliament.
“Everybody has been asking the same question: why is Macron getting along with Trump?” said Celin Belin, a former French diplomat working as a fellow at the Brookings Institute in Washington.
“The question is also why does Trump like Macron? I think he enjoys the respect Macron provides and he respects Macron’s power.”
Belin believes Trump has also deliberately picked a favorite in the European Union “and he has picked France because it’s strong militarily and not an economic threat, which is the opposite of Germany.”
French diplomats privately concede that the main question for Macron is whether his proximity to the US unilateralist will lead to results, either in convincing the United States to take into account its EU allies or mitigating the fallout from Trump’s decisions.
During the trip to Washington, Macron will have repeated opportunities to try to influence his American partner starting with a dinner at Mount Vernon, the home of the first US president George Washington, along with their wives Brigitte and Melania on Monday night.
Macron will also visit the State Department, take part in a state dinner at the White House and demonstrate his English-language skills — a rarity for a French president — in an address to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.
Topping the agenda will be the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump is threatening to pull out of against the wishes of European nations, and US trade tariffs on steel and aluminum which could hit EU exports.
Trump is set to announce a final decision on the Iran deal and whether to prolong an exemption on EU metals imports in the first few weeks of May.
“We hope that the visit will be useful in convincing and in advancing things in the right direction,” Macron’s adviser said on condition of anonymity, but he warned: “You shouldn’t expect a diplomatic breakthrough.”
Other issues set to be discussed include US talks with North Korea and relations with Russia following the poisoning of an ex-Russian spy in Britain, as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Syrian civil war.