U.S. urges Azerbaijan to hold fair elections

WASHINGTON (Reuters) — The U.S. State Department on Monday urged Azerbaijan to hold fair elections in October as it hosted a lunch for Prime Minister Ilham Aliyev–who is widely expected to succeed his ailing father as president of the oil-rich state on the Caspian Sea.

The Azeri parliament on Aug. 4 paved the way for Aliyev to succeed his father–President Haydar Aliyev–by electing him prime minister of the former Soviet Republic. In that role–the younger Aliyev would become acting head of state if his father–who is being treated at a Cleveland hospital–were to die.

The State Department said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage hosted lunch for the younger Aliyev–whose family has dominated national politics in Azerbaijan for three decades–and it stressed the importance of “transparent and democratic” presidential elections on Oct. 15.

Opposition figures have said the largely rubber-stamp Azeri parliament had elevated the younger Aliyev chiefly to ensure that he would win the election. Critics say the authorities want to maintain the appearance of fair elections to appease the West but that the opposition stood little chance against Aliyev following his elevation to prime minister.

“This election–let me stress–we think is very important,” State Department spokesman Philip Reeker told reporters. “Our principal interest is ensuring that the election is conducted in accordance with the recently adopted unified election code, along with Azerbaijan’s constitution and international standards.”

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