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Ruling Party Sees Victory in Azeri Vote

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- The ruling New Azerbaijan Party expressed confidence that it would win a large majority in Sunday's parliamentary elections, billed as a test of President Ilham Aliyev's attempts at managed democracy, but an opposition leader claimed fraud shortly after the polls closed.

Voters at polling stations in and around the capital, Baku, said the voting itself was freer than at any election during the 12 years of rule by Aliyev and his late father, Heidar. Most local election officials appeared to be following instructions not to tell voters whom to support -- a noticeable change from previous elections.

Anti-falsification measures urged by Western governments and agreed by Aliyev just 12 days before election day -- including the spraying of voters' fingers with invisible ink to prevent multiple voting -- appeared to be having an effect where they were carried out. But implementation appeared to be patchy, with opposition observers saying that officials in some polling stations were not spraying fingers and were advising people whom to vote for.

Ali Kerimli, leader of the Popular Front, one of three parties in the opposition Azadliq, or Freedom, bloc, said Sunday night that the voting was "clearly falsified" and that opposition members of local election committees were being detained.

"These elections could not reflect the will of the Azeri people," he said. "Beginning tomorrow, we will begin our peaceful struggle within the framework of the constitution to annul the fraudulent results."

The deputy head of the Musavat party, Vurgun Eyub, said seven opposition party representatives had been detained at a polling station in the Surahani district, outside Baku, and that all opposition observers had been thrown out of 23 stations just before the polls closed.

The New Azerbaijan Party's executive secretary, Ali Akhmadov, countered that the elections had been "transparent, just and democratic" and said the opposition's claims of fraud "mean they acknowledge their own defeat."

Inside School No. 156, Abuzer Ahmedov, the only opposition party representative on the local six-member election commission, complained that a group of 300 young soldiers from a military base 10 kilometers away had barged into the polling station and that he had not been able to spray their fingers with invisible ink.

At this, a New Azerbaijan Party election official, Hasret Rustamov, hustled over. "Don't believe a word of his lies," she said. "There were no problems. We let the soldiers in just after the polls opened."

Source: The Moscow Times

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