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Azerbaijan: Officials Say Presidential Vote Is Valid

Baku, 15 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Azerbaijani election officials say that today's presidential election is already valid, with 56 percent of eligible voters having cast their ballots at 12 p.m. Prague time. Azerbaijanis are voting to replace 80-year-old ailing incumbent Heidar Aliev, who is receiving medical treatment in the United States.

The president's son, Ilham Aliev, Azerbaijan's prime minister, is considered to be the leading candidate.

Seven other candidates are running in the election, but only two opposition leaders are seen as challengers to Aliev: Isa Gambar of the Musavat Party, and Etibar Mamedov of the National Independence Party. Gambar accuses the government of trying to rig the vote.

The election has already been criticized by international organizations citing incidents of police violence at opposition rallies, intimidation, and biased media coverage.

An election observer from the Musavat Party today set himself on fire after election officials refused to accept his complaint that people were casting multiple ballots.

Polls are due to close at 4 p.m. Prague time. Preliminary results are expected later in the day.