Azeri opposition calls for poll rerun

More than 20,000 opposition supporters have gathered in the second mass protest in recent days demanding a rerun of last weekend's disputed parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.

    The elections were denounced by the opposition as fraudulent

    Gathering on Sunday in a square in the capital of the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation, Baku, protesters held a sea of orange flags and chanted "Resign" and "Freedom".

    Opposition activists railed against what they said was a fraudulent vote, and sought to spark widespread popular protests similar to those that propelled opposition leaders to power in three other former Soviet republics in recent years.

    Official results indicate that President Ilham Aliev's ruling party won most seats in the 125-member legislature, the Milli Majlis, while opposition parties won just a handful.

    International monitors have agreed with the opposition, saying the vote fell short of democratic standards.

    But the outside observers, such as the Council of Europe, have declined to back the call for a new election, instead saying officials responsible for the alleged fraud should be punished.

    Assurances

    Aliev, who took over from his long-ruling father two years ago in tainted elections, dismissed the possibility of a revolution, saying the people were satisfied with his government.

    He has also taken some steps to reassure Western nations who have built close ties with Azerbaijan, looking to benefit from the country's vast oil and gas reserves.

    The crowd dispersed peacefully
    after the deadline expired

    On the Baku square, hundreds of riot police armed with batons and shields watched as some protesters shouted: "Tents in the Square." The demonstrators appeared to grow more defiant as the official deadline for them to disperse passed after two hours.

    Groups of young men dropped to their knees, as if to start a sit-in, but most reluctantly began leaving.

    About 15 minutes after the meeting's official end, the square was empty.

    The opposition has asked permission to hold another rally on Friday.

    SOURCE: AFP


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