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Central & South Asia
Azerbaijan presidential polls close
Incumbent president likely to win second term in oil-rich country.
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2008 19:10 GMT

Opposition groups called on voters to boycott
the election [AFP]

Polls for Azerbaijan's presidential election have closed, with Ilham Aliyev, the incumbent president, likely to continue as the Central Asian country's leader.

Polling stations closed at about 7pm (1400 GMT) on Wednesday.

Turnout for the election was said to be high by Azerbaijan's authorities, even though many opponents to Aliyev boycotted the vote, accusing Azerbaijani authorities of persecuting the opposition, muzzling the media and fixing previous polls.

The electoral commission said that 64.9 per cent of those eligible had voted by about 5pm (1200 GMT).

The names of six other candidates appeared alongside Aliyev on the ballot, but all were loyal to the authorities and some have not even bothered to campaign.

The government has said Aliyev's popularity is unassailable, in part thanks to an oil boom driving one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, despite the global financial crisis.

Azerbaijan, a strategic oil-rich country, has been seen as a nation struggling to balance ties with the United States and Russia, as Moscow and Washington vie for its allegiance.

Predictable outcome

Analysts say the only question is by how wide a margin the 46-year-old president, son of Heydar Aliyev, the Caspian state's previous president, will surpass the other contenders.
  

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Heydar Aliyev dominated political life in the country for more than 30 years.
  
Fuelled by energy exports, Azerbaijan's economy grew by 26 per cent last year, among the highest growth rates in the world, despite widespread corruption.
  
Since coming to power in 2003 after his father's death, Aliyev has walked a tightrope between Moscow and Washington as the two vied  for access to the vast energy resources of the Caspian Sea.
 
Despite criticism of his democratic record, Washington considers Aliyev as a key energy partner.
 
Azerbaijan is the starting point for a strategic corridor of pipelines delivering oil and gas from the Caspian Sea to Turkey and on to Western markets.
  
But analysts say Aliyev will remain wary of angering Moscow, especially after the Georgia-Russia war in August showed  how far the Kremlin was willing to go to protect its interests in the region.

Source:
Agencies
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