OSCE Asks Azerbaijan to Free Political Detainees

BAKU (Reuters)–Europe’s biggest human rights watchdog urged Azerbaijan on Wednesday to free those detained "on political grounds” after riot police dispersed a protest against Ilham Aliyev’s election as president.

Aliyev–who took over as president from his father–Haydar Aliyev–to create the first political dynasty of the former Soviet world–said authorities had acted completely within the law in dealing with protesters.

Authorities announced that 400 "ringleaders of disorder” were detained and 62 formally charged in the aftermath of last Thursday’s 3,000-strong protest–broken up by police using truncheons–dogs and teargas. At least three people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Dutch Foreign Minister Jaap de Hoop Scheffer–acting as chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–called for the release of anyone detained without justification but made no mention of names or numbers.

"I believe guilty parties must be punished. But those detained on political grounds must be released,” De Hoop Scheffer told a news conference after a day of talks in Baku.

The West–he said–would determine its attitude to Aliyev–he said–on the basis of his respect for democratic principles.

"I believe the new president of Azerbaijan–Ilham Aliyev–fully understands this,” he said. "In my country–some people dislike the opposition–but in a democratic society–everyone has to live side by side.”

On Monday–the US State Department said it was also concerned by what it said appeared to be "a wave of politically motivated arrests.”

Official results announced this week declared Ilham Aliyev the election winner with nearly 77 percent of the vote. Isa Gambar of the opposition Musavat party–had 14 percent. He dismissed the outcome as fixed from the outset of the count.

Aliyev was quoted by a presidential spokesman as telling De Hoop Scheffer that security forces had acted within the law.

"We have dealt with the events of October 16 by holding strictly to the law. There are no political undertones in our action,” he was quoted as saying. "We remain committed to the principles of democracy.”

Azerbaijan’s first deputy chief prosecutor–Ramiz Rzayev–denied arrests had been made on political considerations.

Two top members of Musavat–he said–faced charges carrying a penalty of up to 12 years in prison as did a number of other opposition leaders. Gambar was not among those detained.

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