Indelible Ink No Match for Ineffaceable Tendencies in Azerbaijan

BAKU (AP/Reuters)–Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev–on Tuesday–ordered urgent measures to ensure its November 6 parliamentary election is fair–after Washington voiced concern over a police crackdown in the country.

Aliyev told officials to draw up plans for applying indelible ink to voters’ fingers and asked parliament to scrap a ban on foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) monitoring the election–state television reported.

Though both measures were recommended earlier by the democracy watchdog group–the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–they had been rejected by Aliyev’s administration.

Aliyev said he changed his mind because he wanted "the final phase of the election process to pass off? in accordance with the law."

Last week–police in Azerbaijan arrested two ministers over an alleged coup conspiracy with a fugitive opposition leader and rounded up dozens of opposition activists for staging banned protests.

A spokesman for the US State Department said the arrests and other action "raise questions about the government’s commitment to a democratic campaign."

Diplomats say Aliyev has ordered improvemen’s to election procedures in the past but his officials have failed to implement them.

The November 6 election is under close international scrutiny after rigged votes in ex-Soviet Georgia and Ukraine led to revolutions–a scenario some of Aliyev’s opponents say could be repeated in Azerbaijan.

Indelible ink is used so that election officials can catch anyone trying to vote twice. Azeri law bans NGOs with more than 30 percent foreign funding from fielding election observers.

Meanwhile–just yesterday–truncheon-wielding police broke up an opposition rally in Azerbaijan’s capital by beating and detaining protesters.

Some 200 riot police trying to disperse several hundred protesters hit some with truncheons and pushed them away from a square where they had gathered in defiance of an official ban on downtown protests.

Protesters–some carrying red carnations–chanted "Free Elections!" One demonstrator fell after several officers hit him over the head with truncheons and fellow protesters carried him away to a safer area.

Police officers detained several dozen protesters–dragging them to minibuses and driving them away. Among the detainees were two candidates for parliament from the opposition parties–including Panah Huseinli–chief of staff of the Azadlig electoral bloc that organized yesterday’s protest. Police were backed by plainclothes security agents–who brutally beat protesters. In one incident–several plainclothes agents stopped a taxi to take away a demonstrator. When the driver argued with them–they beat him several times–threw him out of his car and drove away with the detainee.

Despite the violence–demonstrators continued gathering in small groups on the perimeter of the square where some engaged in shoving matches with police.

Opposition groups have been holding rallies nearly every weekend to demand fair elections–and police have broken up recent attempts that defy the official ban on downtown protests.

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