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Azeri Opposition Masses in Central Baku

Activists calling for the government to resign converge on Victory Square.
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Thousands of opposition supporters, claiming the weekend parliamentary elections were massively rigged, demonstrated in central Baku on November 9.

 

IWPR reporters at the scene estimate that 15 thousand people took part in the rally – the authorities insisted that less than half that number turned up.

 

Opposition parties presented a united front at the demonstration, with the leaders of the Azadlig, Yeni Siyaset and Milli Birlik coalitions standing side by side.

 

But with the orange banners of Azadlig swamping the city’s central square, it was clear that this bloc - formed from the three largest opposition parties, the Popular Front, Musavet and the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan - led the gathering.

 

The opposition want the election results annulled and a new ballot held.

 

“We oppose the total falsification [of the poll results]. We have the backing of the public – and we’ll bring 100 to 150 thousand people on to the streets. Not all is lost yet. Don’t let your spirits fall,” former prime minister and one of the leaders of Azadlig, Panah Huseyn, told the crowd.

 

The rally, which passed off without violence, began with columns of people, carrying orange banners, and chanting “Resign” and “Freedom”, marching to Victory Square.

 

The slogans on the banners included, “Stop trading our democracy for oil!” and “President Bush, please, help democracy in Azerbaijan!”

 

While the rally was peaceful, with police standing away from the crowds, this was not the case in protests outside the capital, according to IWPR reporters based in the regions.

 

In Sheki, in the northwest, three local opposition activists were detained. In Ganja, in the west, special police checkpoints were set up. In many places, activists were called into police stations and warned not to take part in the Baku rally.

 

Commenting on the opposition’s refusal to recognise the results of the election, Ali Ahmedov, a senior official in the ruling party Yeni Azerbaijan, told journalists, “For the past 12 years the opposition has not recognised the results of any elections and this means that they cannot accept their own defeat.”

 

Meanwhile, the Central Electoral Commission has admitted that some irregularities did take place, cancelling the results in two constituencies - others are also being investigated.

 

The authorities appear to have accepted that a degree of falsification took place, with President Aliev pensioning off the heads of the executive authorities of two regions for serious electoral violations on polling day.

 

The opposition is planning to hold another rally on November 12, but some of those who took part in the latest demonstration felt this would take the steam out of the protest movement.

 

“As it is, they took their time with this rally, what point is there now in letting another two days go by? It’s obvious they’re bargaining with the authorities,” said two young people with orange bandanas around their foreheads.

 

Government supporters are to hold a rally in Victory Square on November 10.

 

Shahin Rzayev is IWPR's country director in Azerbaijan. Margarita Akhvlediani is IWPR's regional director based in Tbilisi.

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