The ruling New Azerbaijan Party of President Ilham Aliyev turned out the rank and file Thursday to celebrate last weekend's disputed parliamentary victory. As the government celebrated, the multiparty opposition agreed to join forces in order to present a united front as they ratchet up attempts to secure a whole new election.
Pro-government spokesmen with Azerbaijan's ruling (Yeni) New Azerbaijan Party thanked the crowd for turning out to hail, what they called, "our victorious president," whose party, according to the Central Election Commission, retained its controlling majority in parliament .
But there was no sign of Ilham Aliyev, other than his photo on a placard carried atop the shoulders of government apparatchiks. This man says it doesn't matter to him whether the president comes out to meet him. He says "we still support him," and his late father, Heydar Aliyev.
The man says he believes the young Aliyev will lead Azerbaijan's people to a happy and prosperous future. Referring to the political opposition he says no "black forces" will deter the ruling party from its plans for the future.
A man nearby volunteered that he had come to the square on his own to support what he called "transparent elections." Unprompted, he added,"no one forced us to come here."
But later at least two other people standing on the edges of the crowd, estimated to number close to 15,000, told VOA people had been bused to the rally from their work, homes and even universities. Long lines of buses were clearly evident on the approaches to the square. And unlike Wednesday's opposition rally, people could be seen clearly leaving, soon after the rally began.
Either way, by free will or force, the turn-out was reminiscent of a Soviet-style victory party, complete with national songs, national flags, ruling party uniforms and fireworks.