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Azerbaijan: Washington Warns Aliyev Against Wholesale Arrests

Washington, 23 October 2003 (RFE/RL) -- A top U.S. diplomat has warned the Azerbaijani government against launching large-scale arrests of peaceful demonstrators protesting the result of recent presidential elections.

A State Department spokesman yesterday said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage spoke on the telephone with Ilham Aliyev following the 15 October elections. The spokesman, Adam Ereli, said Armitage noted the "strong performance" of Aliyev, who won the polls to succeed his ailing father.

"The deputy secretary also told Mr. Aliyev that people who commit crimes, whether police or opposition, should be prosecuted, and he warned against a worsening of the situation with any kind of Soviet-style round-up," Ereli said.

Azerbaijan's Interior Ministry said more than 60 people have been arrested on charges of organizing and participating in the protest demonstrations in Baku. It said another 400 people were detained over the protests in which one person was killed and dozens injured.

Both the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the United States have said that the election failed to meet international standards.

Speaking at the State Department's daily briefing, Ereli made it clear that despite its critical views of the election, the U.S. government is prepared to do business with the new Azerbaijani government. "We are going to work with President-elect Ilham Aliyev and his government, " he said. "But we also believe that Azerbaijan's leadership missed an opportunity, an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election."

Ereli said commenting on Aliyev's "strong" show at the polls was "a recognition of an objective fact." The Azerbaijani demonstrators said Aliyev's victory was rigged. Aliyev blamed the opposition for orchestrating the violence. Several opposition leaders were among those arrested.

Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who is currently the OSCE's chairman in office, also warned against political detentions. "I have told President-elect [Ilham] Aliyev that I fully understand that if people -- and it's up to the judge to decide -- but if people, in the aftermath of the elections have committed misdemeanors or crimes by inciting violence they should be punished, but that we should make a clear distinction between those people who might have done that, mark my words -- who might have done that -- and people who are or were going to be detained for other reasons, political reasons. That is of course not acceptable," de Hoop Scheffer said.

Aliyev's father, outgoing President Heidar Aliyev, is receiving treatment in a U.S. hospital. He underwent open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic several years ago.