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Central & South Asia
Azerbaijan holds presidential vote
Incumbent president likely to win second term in oil-rich country.
Last Modified: 15 Oct 2008 07:45 GMT

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

Voting has begun in the Central Asian country of Azerbaijan for a presidential election like to return Ilham Aliyev, the president, to office.

Polling stations across the country opened at 8am (0300 GMT) on Wednesday, and were due to close at 7pm (1400 GMT).

The 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.

Leading opponents are boycotting the vote, accusing Azerbaijani authorities of persecuting the opposition, muzzling the media and  fixing previous polls.

The names of six other candidates will appear alongside Aliyev on the ballot, but all are 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.

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.
  
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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