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Europe

Ruling party wins large majority in Azerbaijan elections

Elections in Azerbaijan delivered a big victory to the ruling New Azerbaijan party. Yet opposition leaders have accused the government of manipulating some voters and falsifying results.

Ilham Aliyev casts ballot

Aliyev keeps a firm grip on the country of 9 million

Azeri President Ilham Aliyev's New Azerbaijan party widened its majority in parliament after elections on Sunday, setting up Aliyev for an even tighter grip on the oil-rich nation in Central Asia.

With almost all the votes counted on Monday, New Azerbaijan widened its majority from 64 to at least 70 seats in the 125-seat unicameral legislature. Nearly all the rest of the seats went to a number of small parties and "independents" allied with the government.

Critics alleged that authorities manipulated the vote by rejecting the registration of opposition candidates, suppressing free media coverage, intimidating public sector employees and stuffing ballot boxes.

The main opposition party Musavat, which held four seats in the outgoing parliament, did not win a single seat. Party leader Isa Gambar denounced the vote as "illegitimate and undemocratic."

Members of the electoral commission count votes

The opposition said the election was 'shameful'

"Yesterday's events had nothing to do with elections, it was the most shameful kind of election," Gambar said at a news conference on Monday. "The new parliament is illegitimate and we demand new elections."

Muted criticism from the West

Central Election Commission said "no serious violations were registered that could affect the result." About 4.9 million people were registered to vote, and the commission put turnout at 50.1 percent.

The report of about 300 observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was due later on Monday.

President Aliyev maintains a firm hold over the Muslim-majority nation of 9 million, a former Soviet republic. He won reelection with a large majority in 2008, and last year a public referendum ended a two-term limit on the presidency.

The opposition has often accused the West of holding back criticism of the government in an effort to keep relations friendly. Azerbaijan has strategic importance as a oil and gas exporter and as a transit route for NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Author: Andrew Bowen (AFP, AP, Reuters)
Editor: Rob Turner

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