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Aliyev Plays Down Vote Irregularities Amid Criticism


http://gdb.rferl.org/FF192D27-DD4E-446B-9430-3779A8A04B2D_w203.jpg --> http://gdb.rferl.org/FF192D27-DD4E-446B-9430-3779A8A04B2D_mw800_mh600.jpg President Aliyev at a polling station after voting on 6 November (epa) Prague, 8 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- After criticism from the West, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has played down criticism of the country's 6 November parliamentary elections.


With nearly all of the votes counted, Azerbaijan's ruling party looks set to win the majority of seats in parliament. The opposition has rejected the results and has vowed to begin protests tomorrow.


In comments broadcast on state television today, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said irregularities occurred only in a small number of districts.


His comments were supported by the country's Central Election Commission. The commission said that the vote was for the most part fair, but that a few results might be reviewed following complaints of irregularities.


In his televised statements, the Azerbaijani president promised to punish officials who might have interfered with the ballot.


"The goal of the Azerbaijani government and of the Azerbaijani president has been to hold free and fair elections. That is why I cannot allow any official to cast doubt on the overall results of the elections by his arbitrary actions or illegal interference," Aliyev said.


According to preliminary figures released by the election commission, with 96 percent of the vote counted, the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party has won 63 seats out of 125. The main opposition bloc, Azadliq (Freedom), has reportedly won just six.


Problems With Vote


The vote has been criticized by Western observers for failing to meet international standards.


OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Alcee Hastings, who heads the OSCE's short-term mission to Azerbaijan, yesterday cited "significant deficiencies" in the vote count.


"Despite the expressed political will by state authorities to improve the overall election process -- in particular through the two presidential decrees -- implementation only partially achieved the stated objectives," Hastings said.


The OSCE also said it noted some interference on the part of local authorities.


The United States has backed the OSCE's assessment and has called on Azerbaijan to investigate accusations of electoral fraud.


State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said yesterday there were some improvements over previous elections. But he added that there were serious concerns.


"Those instances of fraud and reports of major irregularity need to be investigated. They need to be investigated pursuant to Azerbaijani laws and regulations and in ways that redress grievances of people participating peacefully in the political system. That is an important responsibility of any country that is committed to democracy and the rule of law and the rights of its citizens," Ereli said.


The European Union joined in criticism of the poll.


Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external-affairs commissioner, said that, despite some improvements in the electoral process, "there appear to have been significant shortcomings on the election day."


A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) was also critical of the vote, saying that 43 percent of the ballot-counting process was "bad or very bad."


Azerbaijan's opposition has rejected the election results, citing massive irregularities, and is demanding a repeat vote.


Speaking at a press conference yesterday, Isa Qambar, one of the leaders of the Azadliq bloc, called for results to be annulled in 100 of Azerbaijan's 125 voting districts.


The opposition says it plans to hold a peaceful protest in the capital Baku tomorrow.


(With agencies)

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