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Azerbaijan Court Reviews Last Week's Presidential Vote - 2003-10-21


Azerbaijan's Constitutional Court is reviewing the final results from last week's presidential election, which central election officials say was won by the son of outgoing President Heidar Aliyev.

The Constitutional Court is reviewing final, official results, which give Ilham Aliyev 77 percent of the vote and his closest rival, Isa Gambar, 14 percent.

The final figures are slightly different from the first results released last week, in which election chiefs said Mr. Aliyev had gained nearly 80 percent of the vote.

The court now has 14 days to confirm the results in a ruling, which cannot be appealed.

Three days later, president-elect Aliyev will be sworn into office in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku. But the leadership change brings questions.

Azerbaijan's political opposition claims the vote was stolen and says it will not recognize the stated results. At least four officials of opposition groups have been arrested, and Mr. Gambar is reported under police observation.

The opposition took to the streets shortly after the polls closed Wednesday and during the next 24 hours the protest developed into some of the worst political violence Azerbaijan has seen in a decade.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe say the vote, like others in Azerbaijan's past, fell far short of international standards for a free and fair election. The groups cite incidents of ballot box stuffing, vote fraud and falsified counting.

Both organizations have since expressed concern about a wave of arrests of opposition supporters. The Council of Europe is calling for an immediate investigation into the reported incidents.

Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General's office and the Interior Ministry put the number of those arrested at 200 and say the arrests were made to restore public order and protect the population.

Azerbaijan's government blames the opposition for the violence, and the former Soviet Republic's interior minister has said that those responsible for the unrest will have to answer before the law for their actions.

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