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Azerbaijan Opposition Parties Call For Boycott Of Early Presidential Poll

Azerbaijani Opposition Holds Rally Ahead Of Presidential Poll
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Azerbaijan's two main opposition parties on March 10 held a rally calling for a boycott of the presidential election that was moved forward to April 11.

The Musavat and the National Council of Democratic Forces have both announced they will not take part in the election after President Ilham Aliyev last month issued a decree bringing forward the date of the election to April 11 from the original date of October 17.

Several thousand people gathered on March 10 in the capital, Baku, to take part in the rally, jointly organized by the two parties and sanctioned by authorities.

Aliyev’s decree did not explain the reasons for the decision but said the move was made in accordance with Azerbaijan’s constitution and the country’s Electoral Code.

The constitution was amended in a controversial referendum in September 2016. The amendments have allowed Aliyev to order early elections.

Authorities reportedly switched off the Internet in the area for the duration of the rally to prevent the live broadcast of the action on social networks.

Members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (IHPP), which is part of the National Council, said that police warned them not to take any illegal action.

Before the rally, Gulaga Aslanli, one of the Musavat leaders, said that more than 20 activists of the party, including himself, were threatened by police.

Police also warned participants to use only preapproved slogans, such as "End The Monarchy" -- an apparent swipe at the Aliyev family's grip on power -- "Free Political Prisoners," and "End Corruption."

Azerbaijan's opposition, as well as Western governments and international human rights groups, have criticized Aliyev's government for persistently persecuting independent media outlets, journalists, and opposition politicians and activists.

Aliyev, who has ruled the oil-producing South Caucasus country of nearly 10 million people since shortly before his father's death in 2003, has shrugged off the criticism, and authorities deny that there are political prisoners in the country.

Recent international corruption investigations have also found that Aliyev's family makes frequent use of offshore companies to hide its wealth and mask the ways it gains shares in Azerbaijan's most lucrative businesses.