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AFP
February 17, 2020

Azerbaijan detains dozens of opposition protesters

World

AFP
February 17, 2020

BAKU: Police in Azerbaijan on Sunday detained dozens of opposition protesters who planned a rally against alleged electoral fraud in snap parliamentary polls won by authoritarian President Ilham Aliyev's party.

Aliyev´s Yeni (New) Azerbaijan party secured a majority in the energy-rich country´s legislature in last Sunday´s polls but international observers and the opposition denounced violations ranging from fraud to intimidation.

On Sunday, several opposition parties including Musavat and Republican Alternative (ReAl) attempted to stage a protest rally outside the central election commission, but police intervened, arresting at least 15 people, an AFP reporter witnessed.

The Musavat party said in a statement that the party leader Arif Gadjily and ReAl leader Ilgar Mamedov as well as opposition candidates and election observers were among the 55 arrested demonstrators, some of whom were picked up near their homes.

Some were "taken in police vans to remote, deserted places 200-300 kilometres (120-180 miles) from Baku and abandoned there," Gadjily told AFP after he was freed. Faced with public discontent over a slowing economy, Aliyev, 58, hoped to boost the government´s image by holding early elections and replacing discredited old elites with younger technocrats.

Counting showed his party with 72 seats in the 125-member parliament. But observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe cited in their report numerous instances of ballot stuffing and multiple voting, pressure on voters, candidates, and observers as well as the absence of campaign coverage in mainstream media.

Aliyev has ruled the ex-Soviet state with an iron fist since he was first elected in 2003, after the death of his father, Azerbaijan's Soviet-era Communist leader and former KGB general Heydar Aliyev.

None of the elections held in Azerbaijan since he came to power in 2003 have been recognised as free and fair by international observers and he has faced criticism for persecuting political opponents.