Election Observers Protest OSCE’s Azeri ‘Blindness”

WARSAW/GENEVA (Reuters)–One-third of the election observers who represented the OSCE human rights watchdog during a presidential poll in Azerbaijan earlier this month have accused the body of ignoring widespread vote-rigging.

Some of the observers donned dark glasses and held white canes in front of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) office in Warsaw on Wednesday–saying it had been blind to systematic ballot-stuffing and intimidation.

The OSCE says the October 15 election of Ilham Aliyev as Azeri president was "generally well administered in most polling stations but… still fell short of international standards." It dismissed the complaints of the protesters.

The protesters said they saw systematic ballot-stuffing–false voter lists and intimidation of voters and officials–and that they were barred from observing key steps in the process.

"In 26 of the 35 districts in my region… they only counted the votes of prisoners and soldiers–who were denied leave if they didn’t vote for Aliyev," observer Tomasz Pisula said. "These simply were not elections."

Aliyev took over from his ailing father in the first dynastic succession of the ex-Soviet World and is seen promoting stability in the oil-rich state.

The dozen protesters who gathered in the Polish capital on Wednesday were sent to Azerbaijan by the Institute for Democracy in Eastern Europe (IDEE)–which supplied about a third of the OSCE’s observers. All 188 IDEE observers from around the region have signed a report criticizing the OSCE’s findings.

The head of the election section at the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights–Gerald Mitchell–said the protesters declined two invitations to come inside to talk and that many of their concerns were in fact addressed in the OSCE’s reports.

"If the IDEE has a concern that they were not listened to–we would have an additional concern that they did not fulfill their obligations," he said.

UN SEEKS VIOLENCE PROBE

Five UN human rights experts urged Azerbaijan on Tuesday to investigate allegations of torture and excessive violence by security forces following a presidential election this month.

At least three people were killed and hundreds injured in Baku when riot police–using truncheons–teargas and dogs–dispersed demonstrators protesting at the election of the son of ailing long-term leader Haydar Aliyev as president.

Ilham Aliyev won nearly 77 percent of the vote in the October 15 poll–which Western observers said was tainted by cheating and intimidation.

The five special rights investigators–who report to the UN Committee on Human Rights on issues such as torture and press freedom–said that they were "deeply concerned at the alleged violent quelling of demonstrations."

In a joint statement–they said that they had received reports of security forces using "excessive force" and that opposition leaders and journalists had been specifically targeted.

Reminding the former Soviet republic of the international human rights treaties that it had signed–the five called on the government "to undertake transparent and independent investigations into each individual allegation of death or torture."

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