Azerbaijan votes in presidential elections

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Moscow, Oct 15 (UNI) Voting is taking place today for the presidential elections in the oil-rich former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan with President Ilham Aliyev certain to return for a second term.

About 4.8 million people were registered to vote.

More than 5,000 polling stations opened in 125 constituencies across the country at 0830 IST, with polls to close at 1930 IST.

Early voting went ahead quietly despite a boycott by the main opposition parties over election fraud allegations, Russian news agencies reported.

The six main opposition parties have declared to boycott the polls citing a clampdown on dissent, media restrictions and electoral fraud. The six candidates running against Mr Aliyev are not serious political rivals to the incumbent leader.

''The long-awaited day of Azerbaijan's presidential elections has arrived. This event is very important for us and I think that all voters should take part in the elections,'' Mazahir Panahov, the chairman of the Azerbaijani Central Election Commission said.

Unlike the 2003 presidential and 2005 parliamentary elections, which saw violent clashes with police after the opposition refused to accept the results and staged mass protests, today's vote is expected to pass calmly.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has dispatched 480 observers to the polls, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has sent 30 monitors.

Opposition politician Gulamhusein Alibeyli, who is running as an independent candidate in the presidential race, told mediapersons that no violation had been observed during the voting.

''There are all the conditions for the Azerbaijani people to vote freely in a democratic environment and choose one of the seven presidential candidates,'' RIA Novosti news agency quoted Mr Alibeyli as saying in Baku.

Azerbaijan's leader Mr Aliyev, who took over as President when his father, Geidar Aliyev, stepped down in 2003, won 76.84 per cent of the vote in that year's presidential election.

UNI XC PD AS1541

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