Thousands Rally in Baku against President

BAKU (AP)–More than 2,000 orange-clad opposition members rallied in the Azerbaijani capital Saturday–demanding that President Ilhan Aliyev resign and that authorities ensure that parliamentary elections in November are free and fair.

Mounting pressure on authorities has led some observers to predict the oil-rich Caspian nation could see a popular uprising similar to those that have taken place in the former Soviet republics of Ukraine–Georgia and Kyrgyzstan.

Yelling "Resign!" and carrying orange flags and banners in Russian and English–the government opponents railed against Aliyev.

"We have shown our strength and this is only the beginning," said Sardar Jalaloglu–a top leader with the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan–which is one of three parties making up the opposition Azadlig bloc alliance.

The crowds responded–yelling "Tents on the Square" – a reference to the tent camp that sprang up in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev during the mass demonstrations last year that came to be known as the Orange Revolution. Azadlig has borrowed its campaign color from Ukraine.

Azerbaijan formally launched the election campaign Wednesday after authorities registered more than 2,000 candidates running for 125 parliament seats in the November 6 vote. Of 2,059 candidates registered–432 belong to the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan party that controls parliament. Azadlig and the Yeni Siyaset party are seen as the leading challengers.

Opposition parties have rallied almost weekly amid fears that Aliyev’s government could try to rig the vote. The October 2003 presidential vote–in which Aliyev succeeded his late father–Heydar Aliyev–was widely alleged to have been fraudulent–triggering clashes between police and demonstrators.

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