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Azeri Government Claims Election Victory; Opposition Calls for  Protests

Tensions in Azerbaijan remain high one day after the Central Election Commission announced that the ruling New Azerbaijan Party of President Ilham Aliyev has retained its majority in parliament. The country's political opposition has said it will never accept the results, which were harshly criticized by western observers, and plans massive street protests for Wednesday.

Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission Chairman Masakhin Panakhov tells reporters in Baku that the results of voting in just 10 out of 125 constituencies are "suspect," and that 116 official complaints have been filed.

The chairman is one of several officials to acknowledge some falsification in Sunday's parliamentary election, which President Aliyev has said reflects the will of the Azeri people. But all the officials insist that the deficiencies were not enough to affect the overall outcome of the vote, which gives the president's ruling New Azerbaijan Party 63 seats in the new 125-member parliament.

The electoral official says corrective measures will be taken, including possible invalidation of some results. But political analyst Hassan Guliyev, of Azerbaijan's independent Turan news agency, says he doubts that will be enough to satisfy the political opposition.

Mr. Guliyev says the opposition believes it was deceived in 2003 when, in its view, the West looked the other way after what the opposition says were massively fraudulent elections, in which the late Heydar Aliyev's son took over the presidency. As a result, Mr. Guliyev says the opposition will not back down from protecting its vote this time, even if it has to go it alone.

Mr. Guliyev also warns that the opposition is waving orange flags now to demonstrate they support peaceful change like that seen in Georgia and Ukraine. But he says without outside help, those orange flags could just as easily be changed to green to symbolize Islam, and Azerbaijan's neighbor, Iran.

Independent Western election observers took a significant step toward solidifying the oppositions position Monday, when they roundly condemned the vote as undemocratic.

Hours later, in Washington, State Department Spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States urges Azerbaijan's authorities to launch immediate investigations into the irregularities and fraud, in order to produce a result acceptable to the people and the standards of democracy.

The main opposition bloc, Freedom, which took just six seats in the new parliament, has called for the election results to be completely annulled and plans a massive protest rally in the name of freedom and democracy on Wednesday.

This pensioner, who declined to give his name out of fear, says he plans to be among those demonstrating on Victory Square.

The man says he is not as young as he used to be, nor does he have as much energy. Still, he says he will surely go to the streets to defend his right to a free vote.

Neighboring Turkey, which shares close religious and ethnic bonds with Azerbaijan, has urged calm after the elections. Turkey says its main hope is that stability in the oil-rich nation will be maintained.

It is a desire shared by the United States, which is backing a multi-billion dollar oil pipeline project with Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, due to come on line before the end of this year.