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US Withholds Criticism of Newly Appointed Azerbaijani PM


The United States has declined to criticize the installation of the son of Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev as the country's new Prime Minister and, potentially, the next president in the event of his father's incapacitation. But the State Department said it hopes Ilham Aliyev will help reform the Central Asian country's electoral system.

The State Department had been strongly critical of the constitutional referendum last year that made Monday's political scenario in Azerbaijan possible.

But it is withholding criticism of Ilham Aliyev's confirmation as prime minister by the parliament in Baku and said the United States looks forward to working with him as he assumes his new duties.

The younger Mr. Aliyev was appointed prime minister in a written decree by his 80-year-old father, who is hospitalized in Turkey for a heart ailment.

The decision was approved by parliament only hours later in an overwhelming vote that was boycotted by opposition deputies. The previous Prime Minister Artur Rasizade stepped aside immediately after the vote.

Opposition parties reacted to the turn of events with anger, saying it clears the way for the elder Mr. Aliyev to step aside for health reasons and hand the presidency to his 41-year-old son, leaving Ilham Aliyev in a commanding position to win presidential elections set for October 15.

At a briefing here, State Department spokesman Philip Reeker did not address the criticism in Baku. He said the appointment of the younger Mr. Aliyev by his father is "fully consistent" with the country's constitution as amended last year and that members of parliament "duly gave their approval."

He said the United States looks to the new Prime Minister to work for economic and democratic reforms, including creating the atmosphere for an improved election process in October. "The information that I have is that this process went through a constitutional process according to Article 118 of the Azerbaijani constitution. And certainly as I said, we would look and hope that the new prime minister would work for reform in Azerbaijan, a furtherance of democracy including improved election processes for this fall's elections," Mr. Reeker said.

Last year's constitutional changes, including the provision allowing the prime minister to take over for an incapacitated president, were approved last August in a referendum criticized by the United States as having been held in undue haste and marred by fraud and irregularities.

Less than two weeks ago, the State Department expressed concern about the run-up to the October presidential election, saying it was troubled by the denial of candidate registrations and the arrest of supporters of some presidential contenders.

In Baku, opponents of the Aliyev government urged outside powers, including the United States, the European Union and Turkey not to recognize the prime ministerial decision.

The head of the opposition Musavat party, Isa Gambar, told VOA's Azerbaijani service Monday's action was a "usurpation of power" and an effort to play out what he termed a "neo-monarchist scenario" in Baku.

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