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Rights Group Skeptical On Azerbaijani Elections --> An opposition demontration in Baku on 18 June (epa) Prague, 31 October 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The New York-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) today said it believes conditions are not met for Azerbaijan to hold free and fair parliamentary elections on 6 November.

In a statement attached to a 30-page briefing paper on the pre-election situation, HRW criticizes the Azerbaijani government for intimidating opposition candidates and supporters. The group says mass arrests, beatings, restrictions on campaigning, and an overwhelming pro-government media bias "have undermined the credibility of the vote."

The statement quotes HRW Europe and Central Asia Director Holly Cartner as saying that "Azerbaijan's history of election fraud and abuse is threatening to repeat itself." Cartner also said she fears the present situation "could lead to a bloody crackdown against protesters," similar to the one that took place after the disputed 2003 presidential election.

HRW also says it has doubts on how strongly the United States would respond if the Azerbaijani elections are found to be fraudulent.

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