Leo Platvoet, head of a mission to the former Soviet republic from the 46-member Council of Europe, said on Friday: "We can be disappointed that Mr Bush has double standards when he's talking about democracy in Azerbaijan."

The United States issued a statement earlier in the day praising Azerbaijan, which has large oil reserves, for its handling of election fraud after a controversial vote on 6 November. The statement said the US was looking forward to co-operation with the new pro-government parliament.

Azerbaijan has annulled vote results in 10 districts where it said it found fraud, but a Council of Europe (CoE) delegation said Washington had missed the point as the authorities had annulled mostly opposition victories.

CoE envoys, who said earlier that the parliamentary elections had failed to meet international standards, said the US embassy statement amounted to a contradiction with Washington's stated aims of promoting democracy.

Andreas Gross, a delegation member, said:

Azeris have protested against
the elections in the capital, Baku

"I hope European countries will not be a similar source of disappointment."

Azerbaijan's opposition, which won only nine of 125 seats in the election according to official results, has boycotted the parliament, which held its first session on Friday, and called for new elections.

The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party of Ilham Aliyev, the president, took 55 seats, and scores of nominally independent parliamentarians are seen as ready-made allies for his party.

The opposition has accused Western powers of sidelining their concerns for democracy in Azerbaijan in favour of backing the ruling government because of the country's considerable oil reserves.