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Azerbaijan's Aliyev Brushes Off Rights Criticism, Touts Popularity

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev attends a press conference following a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 21.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev has dismissed criticism of his country's rights records, saying that freedom of the press and other human rights are "guaranteed" in Azerbaijan.

Aliyev made his comments after a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin on January 21.

Aliyev added that Azerbaijan "has no problem" with its low press-freedom ranking on lists made by international human rights groups.

He also cited his own popularity in Azerbaijan, claiming that presidential election results "proved" that the people approve of him, saying that "more than 90 percent of the population backs me."

Both parliamentary and presidential elections in Azerbaijan have been widely criticized by international monitoring organizations as being neither free nor fair.

Merkel has been urged by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, to challenge Aliyev on his record of jailing journalists, rights advocates, and opposition activists.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for Azerbaijani journalist Khadija Ismayilova told RFE/RL that his client had been held in a penal solitary confinement cell for 24 hours last weekend.

Ismayilova, a contributor to RFE/RL, is being held in pretrial detention on suspicion of inciting a man to attempt suicide. Her supporters say the case is politically motivated.

With reporting by Reuters