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Azerbaijan: Voters Endorse Referendum Despite Protests

Baku, 25 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Election officials in Azerbaijan said today that voters approved constitutional changes by an overwhelming margin. But opposition groups say the government rigged the referendum. The director of Azerbaijan's vote-counting system, Igbal Babaev, said nearly 90 percent of the country's 4.4 million voters participated in the referendum yesterday. He said that with 83 percent of the ballots counted, 96 percent were in favor of the amendments to the constitution.

President Heidar Aliyev has said the country needs to change the way parliament and the president are elected to bring the constitution into Western standards.

Opposition groups boycotted the vote and said the changes would hurt democracy, including one they say is designed to make it easier for Aliyev to set up his son Ilham as president. The Democratic Party of Azerbaijan plans to file a complaint with the European Court of Human Rights.