Azerbaijan leader warns of army buildup at huge parade
By Lada Yevgrashina
BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, speaking during the biggest military parade in Baku since the fall of the Soviet Union, promised to boost army spending and gain control of the territories disputed with Armenia.
"I am completely sure that our territorial integrity will be resumed in any possible way," Aliyev was shown on state television as saying at the parade to mark armed forces day. "Therefore, we should be even stronger."
Azerbaijan and Armenia, who fought a war over Nagorno-Karabakh that killed about 30,000 on both sides, concluded a ceasefire in 1994. Attempts by the United States, Russia and France to reconcile the two post-Soviet foes have fallen short.
Aliyev said that his country will boost military spending to $3.3 billion this year, up from $2.15 a year ago and just $160 million in 2003.
Troops marched across Liberty square in central Baku, along with convoys of infantry combat vehicles and Russia-made S-300 self-propelled anti-aircraft missile launchers. Warplanes, helicopters and drones cruised over the city, as TV aired footage of battleships on duty off the Azeri Caspian coast.
Last month the United States, Russia and France passed a joint statement during a G8 summit in French Deauville urging Azerbaijan and Armenia to pave way to peace.
Baku and Yerevan failed to agree on a framework document to set the stage for a resolution of their conflict during a meeting hosted by President Dmitry Medvedev in the Russian city of Kazan last Friday.
"Nagorno-Karabakh is a native Azerbaijani land, this is the way it always was, but it is temporarily under occupation, which cannot last forever," Aliyev said, adding that Baku will continue diplomatic efforts.
Sporadic fighting between Christian Armenians and Muslim Azeris erupted in all-out war in 1991 accompanied by the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Fighting stopped in 1994, when the rivals agreed on a ceasefire, but gunfire and landmines frequently kill soldiers on both sides.
(Writing by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
© Thomson Reuters 2017 All rights reserved.