US Troubled by Wave of Arrests in Azerbaijan

WASHINGTON (Reuters)–The US State Department said on Monday it was concerned by what appeared to be a wave of politically motivated arrests in Azerbaijan over the weekend.

Police arrested hundreds of Azeri opposition supporters and armed men reportedly hauled away an opposition leader on Saturday as the newly elected president–Ilham Aliyev–vowed to clamp down on protests against his contested election.

The arrests have drawn criticism from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)–a regional security group that often acts as a watchdog for democracy. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli echoed its concerns.

"We share those concerns at what appears to be a wave of politically motivated arrests over the weekend,” Ereli told reporters. "It is our view that Azerbaijan’s government must follow through on its OSCE commitmen’s to safeguard its citizens and respect their rights. We also call upon the opposition parties to act peacefully and within the law.”

"We’re also worried about post election violence … and we have called on both the government and the opposition parties to stop it,” he added. "Those who are engaged in criminal acts should be pursued as should be police who used excessive force. There is no place in a democracy for such violence.”

Western governmen’s and investors have winced as police firing tear gas stormed into a crowd of 3,000 protesters on Thursday in the worst such violence in Azerbaijan in a decade.

The discord has been triggered by Wednesday’s presidential poll in which Aliyev was elected to lead the oil-rich country–succeeding his father Haydar Aliyev who is being treated for heart and kidney problems at a hospital in Cleveland–Ohio.

The OSCE has criticized the election–citing cases of ballot-stuffing–intimidation of the opposition and police violence. The opposition said they were robbed of victory.

Separately–Ereli said Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage telephoned the younger Aliyev on Friday–noting his "strong performance at the polls” and reiterating the US desire "to work closely with him and with Azerbaijan.”

"Armitage underscored the need to avoid further violence and ensure that final election results are tabulated fairly,” Ereli added. "He emphasized that it is critical for all sides to show maximum restraint.”

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