Amid Crackdown US Senate Urges Transparency in Azeri Elections

WASHINGTON–DC (Combined Sources)–The US Senate called Friday for "free and fair" elections in Azerbaijan–after the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed "major concern" over violence and "mass arrests" ahead of next month’s elections.

In a resolution adopted late Thursday–the Senate "calls on the government of the Republic of Azerbaijan to hold orderly–peaceful–free–and fair parliamentary elections in November 2005–in order to ensure the long-term growth and stability of the country."

Police have violently disbanded a number of banned opposition protests in the weeks leading up to the November 6 parliamentary elections–which are seen as a test of stability and democracy in the oil-rich Caucasus republic.

Meanwhile–cabinet ministers and other top officials in Azerbaijan were sacked this week on charges they were involved in a coup plot.

Among those arrested was former health minister Ali Insanov–who was charged with being in collusion with Rasul Guliyev–the head of the opposition Azerbaijan Democratic Party. According to Russian news sources–he had a reputation of being one of the most corrupt government officials with considerable influence.

The prosecutor’s statement also noted the discovery of large sums of money in the office and apartment of former economic development minister Farkhad Aliyev–who was relieved of duties and arrested two days ago–and his brother–head of the AZPETROL company Rafik Aliyev.

Authorities said the alleged coup was to have taken place earlier this week in an attempt by Guliyev to make an appearance in the capital–Baku–after nearly 10 years in exile in the United States.

US President George W. Bush earlier this week praised Azerbaijan’s preparations for the elections. "Looking ahead–Azerbaijan’s parliamentary elections next month provide an opportunity to elevate our countries’ relations to a new strategic level," Bush said in a letter to Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev. "I welcome your commitment to a free and fair election–which is essential to sustaining a strong partnership between our two countries. I look forward to working with you after these elections," Bush wrote.

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