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U.S.: Washington Joins OSCE To Express Concern On Azerbaijani Crackdown

Washington, 21 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. government has joined the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in expressing concern about a wave of arrests following protests against last week's presidential elections in Azerbaijan.

The State Department said in Washington yesterday the arrests appear to be politically motivated. A State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, called on both the Azerbaijani government and the opposition to act peacefully and to observe the law.

"We are also worried about post-election violence in Azerbaijan and we've called on both the government and the opposition parties to stop it. Those who are engaged in criminal acts should be pursued as should police who used excessive force. There's no place in a democracy for such violence," Ereli said.

Earlier, Christian Strohal, director of the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, condemned the detention of opposition members and several election officials who refused to certify the results at various polling stations.

The election placed Ilham Aliyev in the presidential office to replace his ailing father, and it was followed by violent clashes on 16 October between opposition supporters and police. At least one protester died and dozens were injured in the violence. Strohal said more than 100 people were detained in a government sweep of opposition activists.

Meanwhile, speaking to reporters in Tbilisi, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said there can be no doubt that Aliyev was the winner of the polls. "According to our information which has been confirmed by most of the monitors from international organizations, presidential elections in Azerbaijan were held in an organized way and the victory of Mr. Ilham Aliyev is doubtless," he said.

Earlier, Armenian Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian pledged that his country would work with the newly elected president of Azerbaijan for a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Oskanian expressed hope that the two parties would resume talks soon on the disputed issue.

But Oskanian added, "It is not in our tradition to congratulate each other, and there will be no congratulation from the Armenian side [to the Azerbaijani presidential election winner, Ilham Aliyev]."