image of his father adopted by Ilham Aliev
made him look older these days.
Violence erupted in Baku on October 16, as opposition
supporters protested Azerbaijan's presidential
election results, which showed the ruling party
candidate, Ilham Aliyev, winning in a landslide.
Opposition leaders and international observers
said the election was marred by numerous irregularities.
Police, backed by Interior Ministry forces and
black-clad special riot troops, sealed Freedom
Square in central Baku and cut off access to the
headquarters of leading opposition parties in
an effort to contain popular discontent over the
reports of massive vote fraud. Authorities also
revoked a permit granted to opposition forces
to hold a rally in central Baku planned for October
At least five people were killed in a clash between
an estimated 15,000 supporters of opposition presidential
candidate Isa Gambar, the leader of the Musavat
Party, and roughly 5,000 police. "The police
went crazy, they were out of control," an
eyewitness told EurasiaNet. "The Musavat
supporters also went crazy."
Police savagely beat protesters, using what some
witnesses described as "excessive force."
The indiscriminate police action also resulted
in numerous journalists suffering injuries. Opposition
supporters offered stiff resistance, wielding
self-styled weapons, including branches broken
off trees and metal pipes taken from construction
sites. At one point, an opposition supporter reportedly
drove a truck through a massed group of police.
In addition, groups of Musavat loyalists were
roaming around Baku intimidating shopkeepers into
removing pictures of retiring President Heidar
Aliyev and his son Ilham from store windows.
During the late evening of election day, October
15, security forces stormed the Musavat Party
headquarters, making dozens of arrests. Peter
Eicher, the head of the Organization for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) election observer
mission, was caught up in the melee, and was on
the receiving end of several truncheon blows delivered
by police. "The police behavior was disgusting,"
Eicher told a EurasiaNet contributor.
"Azerbaijani police are notorious for violently
suppressing protesters," Peter Bouckaert,
a Human Rights Watch researcher who was in Baku
to monitor the election, said in a written statement
yesterday (October 16). "This is the worst
case that we have seen during the election process."
supporters infuriated with elections results
came to protest at the Freedom Square in
Baku with wooden sticks.
According to Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission,
with over 90 percent of the ballots tabulated,
Ilham Aliyev received 79.5 percent of the vote.
Gambar was the nearest competitor, garnering just
over 12 percent. Six other presidential candidates
split the remainder. The results appear to confirm
the first dynastic transfer of power in a former
Opposition leaders - including Gambar, the National
Independence Party's Etibar Mamedov and the Popular
Front's Ali Karimli - refused to recognize the
election results, maintaining that the government
rigged the vote. "The elections were held
undemocratically and involved falsifications,
and therefore we decided not to recognize their
outcome," the Interfax news agency quoted
Popular Front spokesman Ishaq Avazoglu as saying.
Speaking at a news conference, Gambar declared
himself the winner, and vowed to continue mounting
popular protests until the government admitted
that it had resorted to fraud. Gambar later went
into hiding, apparently out of fear of arrest,
a source told EurasiaNet.
Opposition media sought to press Gambar's claim.
"Isa Gambar is the president," said
an editorial in the Yeni Musavat Daily. "All
the foreign observation missions and the entire
world, as well as the Azerbaijani people who voted
for him, know this is a fact. The nation said
'no' to Heidar Aliyev's son."
According to an exit poll conducted by the Turan
news agency and the ADAM sociological research
center, Gambar received a plurality of the vote
- 46.2 percent. Ilham Aliyev received just over
24 percent, according to the exit poll. Such a
result in the actual election would have forced
a second-round run-off between the two.
was not a good day for either police or
International observers were not going so far
as to say Ilham Aliyev had stolen the election,
but they did note that the vote was marred by
numerous irregularities. An OSCE observer, for
example, noted that voters were improperly denied
the ability to cast a ballot in Baku.
A statement issued by the Federation of Human
Rights Organizations of Azerbaijan said "hundreds
of thousands" of voters had been improperly
denied the right to vote because local election
commission officials had arbitrarily removed them
from lists of registered voters. The NGO also
said the government organized "special mobile
groups" that traveled to various voting precincts,
casting multiple votes for Aliyev. Other monitoring
missions reported ballot-box stuffing and action
taken by authorities to prevent opposition supporters,
independent observers and journalists from observing
the ballot counting process. According to opposition
leaders, the directors of state enterprises distributed
dozens of pre-marked ballots for Aliyev to employees
and ordered them to cast the votes or face dismissal.
State media largely refrained from covering the
unrest. Government officials were similarly quiet
in the immediate aftermath of the afternoon clash.
US Ambassador Reno Harnish, in comments broadcast
by state television late October 15, appealed
to all sides to show restraint.
Some opposition observers predicted that government
vote-rigging would backfire. They asserted the
extent of the government's fraud would render
Ilham Aliyev's administration illegitimate in
the eyes of large numbers of Azerbaijanis. The
newspaper went on to suggest that the vote has
the potential to spark protests that culminate
in Ilham's demise.
"Yesterday's election was the most disgraceful
one in Azerbaijan's history," said a commentary
in the Azadliq daily. "Election results were
also falsified under Heidar Aliyev, but not by
this much. ... Ilham is caught in a trap of his
Copyright (c) 2003 Open Society Institute. Reprinted
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