Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Azerbaijan To Nearly Double Defense Spending

Azerbaijan is to nearly double its defense spending next year, the finance minister said Oct. 12, amid rising tensions in its conflict with Armenia over the rebel Nagorny Karabakh region.

Finance Minister Samir Sharifov told parliament defense spending under the country's 2011 budget would rise 89.7 percent to 2.5 billion Azerbaijani manats ($3.1 billion).

"Defense spending in 2011 will account for 19.7 percent compared with 10.7 percent in 2010, so the share of defense spending in the budget will almost double," he told lawmakers considering next year's draft budget.

Nearly 1.1 billion manats ($1.4 billion) of the spending will be used to modernize the Azerbaijani military through the purchase of up-to-date equipment and weaponry, he said.

Sharifov said more money would also be allocated for the development of Azerbaijan's defense industry but did not elaborate.

Locked in a long-simmering conflict with Armenia over Karabakh and awash in revenues from energy exports, the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan had already nearly doubled defense spending in the previous two years.

Ethnic Armenian separatists backed by Yerevan seized control of the Nagorny Karabakh region during a war in the early 1990s that left an estimated 30,000 dead and the region remains outside Azerbaijani control.

Tensions over Karabakh have been increasing this year amid stalled peace talks, with the number of deadly skirmishes along a cease-fire line on the rise for months.

At least 18 soldiers on both sides have been reported killed in clashes this year, including eight soldiers killed last month alone.

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