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Parliamentary Campaigning Closes in Azerbaijan


Campaigning has officially drawn to a close in Azerbaijan, where more than 1,500 candidates are vying for 125 seats in parliament. The ruling New Azerbaijan Party of President Ilham Aliyev held its final rally Friday, drawing up to 6,000 supporters.

Pro-government supporters came by rail, bus and foot to show their support for the ruling (Yeni) New Azerbaijan party of President Aliyev in this weekend's elections.

Baku's Victory Square was awash with the party's blue and white flag, as well as hundreds of placards featuring a photo of Ilham Aliyev and his late father, Heydar Aliyev, whom many pro-government supporters say they still miss.

Speaker after speaker told the crowd that they were just hours away from a great victory.

Vagiv Chavadov, a middle-aged employee of Azerbaijan's ecology ministry, says everyone's lives will improve if stability is maintained and what he called "revolutionary tendencies" are avoided.

President Aliyev, who in the run-up to the election has fired at least eight members of his own cabinet for allegedly conspiring with the opposition to overthrow the government, has warned he will not tolerate Ukraine-style popular revolutions.

Opposition leader Isa Gambar, whose (Musavat) party is running in coalition with two other opposition parties to comprise the popular (Azadliq) Freedom bloc tells VOA protests will not be needed, if the election is free and fair.

Mr. Gambar says the opposition is not preparing for revolutions, but for winning the election. He also expressed confidence that if the election is free and fair, the opposition will take at least half the seats in the new parliament.

But he says if the election mirrors the violence, intimidation and repression of the pre-election campaign, his people will have no choice but to come out into the streets in protest.

As Mr. Gambar put it, this may be Azerbaijan's last, best chance for democracy.

The United States and Europe have urged the Azeri authorities to do everything in their power to ensure a democratic vote beyond reproach. But Human Rights Watch has said it is too late for that, already calling the vote "compromised."

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