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Azerbaijan: Violent Clashes Erupt As Election Officials Confirm Aliyev's Son As New President

Tension was running high today in the Azerbaijani capital Baku as clashes between police and opposition activists left at least one dead and dozens wounded. The violence follows yesterday's presidential election, in which official results now show Ilham Aliyev, the son of current president Heydar Aliyev, winning a landslide victory.

Prague, 16 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Today, as election officials declared Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev was set to succeed his father after winning yesterday's presidential polls, protesters clashed with police, leaving two dead and dozens wounded.

Western television footage showed about half a dozen unconscious bodies covered with blood, including that of a young boy. Some police officers also sustained injuries.

The clashes erupted after thousands of supporters of the Musavat (Equality) opposition party rampaged through Baku to protest the outcome of the vote, smashing cars and shop windows.

Chanting the name of the party and its leader, Isa Qambar, the angry crowd surged down one of the capital's main thoroughfares, brandishing bricks and wooden clubs.

Riot police and Interior Ministry troops clashed with the protestors, beating them with truncheons and metal shields. Automatic rifle shots could be heard in the distance.

The protests broke out shortly after the Central Election Commission (CEC) released preliminary election results claiming the 41-year-old Ilham Aliyev had won a landslide victory in yesterday's polls with nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The tally shows Musavat leader Qambar trailing far behind with only 12 percent. The remaining six candidates garnered only a tiny fraction of the vote. CEC chairman Mazahir Panahov said the vote would not go to a second round.

Even before the CEC announcement, Qambar and other opposition leaders said they would not recognize the outcome of the election and accused the Aliyev camp of massive ballot fraud.

As vote-tallying ran into the night and with initial results showing Aliyev heading for a landslide victory, violent clashes erupted between police forces and Musavat activists staging an angry demonstration in front of the party's headquarters.

A number of protestors were injured. Some were arrested.

In a press release issued early today, the New York-based nongovernmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said security forces initiated the attack with no apparent reason.

HRW cited international observers who witnessed the demonstration as saying the attack had been "utterly unprovoked."

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) criticized yesterday's polls, saying the vote fell short of being free and fair.

Addressing a press briefing today in Baku, the head of the local mission of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), Peter Eicher, said Azerbaijan failed to meet international democracy requirements.

"This election was a missed opportunity for a genuinely democratic election process," Eicher said.

Another OSCE official, Giovanni Kessler, slammed the Azerbaijani authorities for what he described as "numerous instances of violence" and "excessive use of force by police" during and after the election campaign.

Kessler also cited numerous cases of ballot-stuffing during yesterday's vote and intimidation of opposition figures in the run-up to the polls.

By contrast, Russian and Turkish monitors sent by their governments to observe the elections said they have no doubts the vote was generally fair.

The official winner of yesterday's election has not appeared in public since he cast his ballot at a Baku polling station yesterday.

During the election campaign, Aliyev said that should he win, he would stick to his father's path, warning that any other course would bring catastrophe to Azerbaijan.

Heydar Aliyev has been undergoing medical treatment abroad since early July and recently withdrew from the presidential race in favor of his son. The 80-year-old veteran leader has never made a secret of the fact that he wanted the reins of power to remain "in the family."

Before asking parliament to appoint Ilham Aliyev prime minister last August, Heydar Aliyev had made his son deputy chairman of Azerbaijan's National Oil Company, first deputy chairman of the New Azerbaijan ruling party, and president of the country's National Olympic Committee.

Until recently, Ilham Aliyev was also the head of the Azerbaijani delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.