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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Baku Calls for Unity Against Armenians

BAKU - Azerbaijan's fragile government appealed to rebel forces Wednesday to unite with its troops against what it said was a renewed attack from neighboring Armenia.

Presidential spokesman Arif Aliyev made the appeal at a press conference as rebel Azeri troops seized the regional center of Akhsu, 90 kilometers west of the capital Baku, Itar-Tass reported.

He said that Wednesday morning Armenian forces had attacked the Azeri city of Agdam, just outside the disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, breaching a cease-fire agreement.

Aliyev also said that President Albufaz Elchibey had appealed to the United States and the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe to force the Armenians to stop their offensive.

One report said Agdam was about to fall. If it does, the shock waves will be felt throughout the country.

The Azeri government has been on the brink of collapse for the past week, after rebel troops took over Azerbaijan's second city, Gyandzha, complicating the five-year-long war over Nagorno-Karabakh with a civil conflict.

Armenian forces were also said to be attacking Madakhert, the last major Azeri-held town in Karabakh. Analysts said the Armenians could be trying to take it before a cease-fire comes into effect, as agreed under the U. S. -Turkish-Russian peace plan for the disputed territory.

After weeks of delay, the Karabakh Armenians finally signed the international peace plan Monday, during the first ever visit to the disputed territory by Armenian president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan.

Under the agreement, a cease-fire was to take effect Wednesday and Armenian troops were to withdraw from the Kelbajar region of Azerbaijan, which they occupied a month ago. It was not clear, however, whether that process was beginning.

Aliyev said that the front line in Karabakh could not be reinforced because the road from Baku was blocked by rebel Azeri troops about 120 kilometers southwest of Baku.

He was the first Azeri official to comment on the clashes outside the capital. He said the leadership had been anxious to play the crisis down during the negotiations over Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the Azeri Popular Front, clashes with the rebels have left three dead.

The president's office said there were wounded on both sides. The government lines appear to be holding after some initial doubt about whether the troops nominally under the command of president Elchibey would resist the temptation to change sides.

The rebel commander, Surat Huseinov, is popular in the armed forces and many garrisons in outlying regions have announced their support for him in recent days. His forces now control more than half of the country and are holding four prominent members of the Azeri government hostage.

The rebellion began when government troops tried to suppress Huseinov and his men, who were based in Gyandzha. More than 50 people were killed in the fighting.

Huseinov, 33, used to be a presidential ally, but now he says he wants all those responsible for leading the operation against the Gyandzha garrison - including the president - to be put on trial.

In Baku itself, political negotiations have been going on between Elchibey, the new chairman of the parliament Geidar Aliyev, and the leader of the main opposition party, Etibar Mamedov, of the National Independence Party. Mamedov is expected to be named prime minister soon.

Aliyev, 70, the ex-protege of Brezhnev and a former communist boss for Azerbaijan, is without doubt the most popular politician in the country today. People associate him with a bygone era of peace and stability.

He made a dramatic comeback Tuesday, being elected parliament chairman in what appeared to be a compromise with Elchibey. Aliyev had been offered the post of prime minister - which comes with less of a power base that parliament chairman - and had turned it down.

Elchibey, by contrast, has lost the confidence of many Azeris because of the relative economic hardship of post-Soviet independence and because, in recent months, the Azeris have suffered a string of devastating defeats in and around Karabakh.