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OSCE, EU Question Azerbaijani Vote

Baku residents pass by campaign posters today (AFP) 7 November 2005 -- Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said today that parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan that culminated in yesterday's voting failed to meet several international standards, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reported.

The OSCE's election-observation mission noted some improvements in the way the election was run, but it said the shortcomings that were observed led the mission to believe that the election "did not meet a number of OSCE commitments and Council of Europe standards for democratic elections."

The international observers in Baku said the elections' shortcomings included, among other things, a faulty count of the ballots and interference by local authorities.

Early official results today suggested that the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party (New Azerbaijan Party, or YAP) won 62 of the 125 seats in the national parliament, or Milli Mejlis. The main opposition Azadliq bloc got five seats, according to those preliminary results.

Citing alleged massive irregularities, Azadliq representatives have said they it will not recognize the outcome of the vote. The opposition has called on its supporters to hold a peaceful march in Baku tomorrow.

EU Reaction

Meanwhile, EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said earlier today that she regrets reports of electoral violations in Azerbaijan's legislative elections.

The initial OSCE and EU assessments as competing political forces in Azerbaijan continue to disagree over the fairness of the voting, which election officials have suggested will be won by the ruling party as oppositionists claim electoral fraud.

"While we are still not knowing all elements in order to draw our conclusions, we understand there are reports of some violations of election procedures and also of the rights of opposition candidates that have been occurring throughout the country, especially in provincial and rural areas," Ferrero-Waldner said.

However, Ferrero-Waldner also said the European Union takes note of "some improvements" in the electoral process.

She singled out a presidential decree introducing the marking of voters' fingers with indelible ink to avoid multiple voting.

Ferrero-Waldner said the EU would issue a definitive assessment of the elections once the OSCE -- which fielded monitors in the polls -- released its report.

Ferrero-Waldner also told RFE/RL that a decision on the EU's European Neighborhood Policy action plans for the three South Caucasus countries can be expected "very soon." The action plans have been delayed following Azerbaijan's authorization of commercial air links with Northern Cyprus.

EU officials have previously warned that if Azerbaijan does not ban the flights, action plans will only be announced for Armenia and Georgia -- but that any decisions would be deferred until after the Azerbaijani elections.

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