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Azerbaijan ruling party wins majority, observers raise concerns

The ruling party in Azerbaijan has won a comfortable majority in the country's parliament. The weekend election, which was boycotted by the major opposition parties, went ahead in a 'calm and peaceful' manner.

A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe's election observer mission (PACE) released a statement Monday saying

Sunday's vote

went ahead peacefully. Voter turnout was recorded at 55.7 percent.

"The voting process was observed to be adequate and generally in line with international standards," the 28-member delegation said, adding they did not observe any "major of systemic" violations of the country's election code. The missing did report observing "minor ballot stuffing" at some polling stations, but could not establish who was responsible for it.

As was expected, the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan (New Azerbaijan) party of President Ilham Aliyev claimed victory in the contest for the parliament's 125 seats.

"According to preliminary estimate, Yeni Azerbaijan (the New Azerbaijan party) got 69 mandates, which allows us to announce this party as the winner," the head of the country's central election commission, Mazahir Panakhov, told reporters.

It cements Aliyev's grip on power for another five years.

Election observers

Europe's main election watchdog, the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe)

refused to monitor the poll

because of restrictions put on them by Azerbaijan authorities.

PACE called on the authorities to "urgently improve the situation on human rights and to continue the democratic development of the country after the elections," noting "serious concerns in the sphere of human rights still remain in Azerbaijan" including the imprisonment of activists.

The leading opposition parties in the tightly-controlled Caucasus nation, which include the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the Musavat party and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan all boycotted the polls.

The NCDF accused Aliyev of "once again taking power from the people."

Azerbaijan, situated in the Caucasus between Russia, Iran and Turkey, is a major oil and gas producer. It has a population of 9.5 million, most of them Muslim.

se/jm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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