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Polling Stations Close In Azerbaijan

Azerbaijani girls walk along a long line of naval cadets waiting to vote (epa) Baku, 6 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Polls are closed in Azerbaijan, where voters today cast ballots for their new parliament.

Addressing reporters while casting his ballot, President Ilham Aliyev this morning said the conditions were met for free and fair elections.

"Overall, the election campaign was very successful. All candidates were granted equal conditions," Aliyev said. "The election campaign was successful. As you know, approximately 2,000 candidates have been registered. This shows that the people are confident that the election will be free and transparent."

Opposition and pro-government parties, however, both leveled accusations of election violations.

The Yeni Azerbaycan Party (New Azerbaijan Party), Aliyev's power base, blamed the main opposition Azadliq (Freedom) coalition for irregularities in at least 10 constituencies.

Azadliq, in turn, accused election officials of denying its observers access to some polling stations and, in some cases, of marking voters' fingers with washable, rather than indelible, ink.

None of these claims could be independently verified.

Ali Kerimli, chairman of the reformist wing of the Azerbaijan's Popular Front Party and one of the leaders of Azadliq, said he was confident the irregularities noted by midday would not be enough to affect the outcome of the vote.

But he said if there proved to be significant violations, Azadliq would call upon its supporters to take to the streets of the capital Baku.

"We will defend the rights of the voters through all the constitutional means that exist under the law," Kerimli said. "I can tell you right now that all our protests will have an exclusively peaceful character. We will not give the authorities any excuse to use force against the people."

Some 1,600 foreign and 17,000 Azerbaijani election observers are monitoring the polls. Their preliminary conclusions are not expected until late tonight.

(RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service/

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