Azeri leader proclaims emergency

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MOSCOW - With the ink barely dry on a dollars 7bn ( pounds 4.5bn) oil contract with British Petroleum and other western firms, Azerbaijan was again in turmoil last night, after President Haydar Aliyev, a former KGB officer and member of the Soviet politburo, imposed a state of emergency and denounced what he described as an effective coup d'etat by mutinous policemen, writes Andrew Higgins.

News agencies reported tanks on the streets of Baku, the capital, where oil, post-Soviet instability and a war with Armenia over Nagorny-Karabakh lubricate potent and byzantine intrigue.

'Aggressive forces inside and outside the republic have not given up their attempts to destabilise the situation in Azerbaijan and blow up the country from inside,' Itar-Tass quoted the President as saying in a televised address. 'They will disdain no means to achieve this goal.'

The imposition of a 60-day emergency regime in the capital follows violent feuding within the security services. It was a similar split, then in the military, that forced the country's first elected president, Abulfaz Elcibey, to flee Baku in June last year, just as he was about to fly to London to sign an oil agreement covering three fields in the Caspian Sea. It was not until a fortnight ago that the deal, since renegotiated and revised, was finally signed, to the chagrin of Russia, which opposes outside encroachment on what it regards as its own sphere of diplomatic and commercial influence.

Because of his long service to Moscow, Mr Aliyev was expected to be more sympathetic to Russia than his ousted predecessor. But he also came out in support of a deal with the Western consortium.