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U.S. Envoy: Azerbaijan Must Improve Human-Rights Record

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev Baku, 27 March 2004 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage today said Azerbaijan's human-rights record needs improvement.

Addressing reporters after talks with Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev in Baku, Armitage said he had told his interlocutor that media should be allowed to operate free from restrictions.

Dozens of opposition activists and antigovernment journalists have been detained since last October's postelection violence that killed at least one person. Some have already been sentenced to various jail terms, while others are still awaiting trial.

Aliyev's opponents say last year's presidential election was fraudulent and have accused Washington of muting its criticism in light of Azerbaijan's vast oil reserves and support to the U.S.-led war on terror.

Energy projects and antiterrorism cooperation were the two main topics on Armitage's agenda when he met Aliyev today. The U.S. envoy also met opposition leaders.