BAKU (Reuters)–Azeri President Haydar Aliyev was sworn in for another five-year term in office on Sunday–one week after winning an election which his main competitor says was rigged.
The veteran Aliyev–75–looked in top form as he swore on the Koran and then kissed the Azeri green–blue–and red flag in front of more than 2,000 dignitaries at Baku’s Republic Palace.
The Central Elections Commission says Aliyev won 76.1 percent of the vote last Sunday–above the two-thirds needed to avoid a runoff–but his main challenger–Etibar Mamedov–accuses him of massive fraud and of usurping power.
Mamedov has vowed to remove Aliyev from office.
Foreign observers said the poll was not up to international standards and listed widespread irregularities during campaigning–voting–and the tabulation of ballots which they say in almost all cases helped Aliyev.
Political observers in Azerbaijan say the controversy may weaken Aliyev’s control over the state in his second term.
"In this honored position I will preserve the territorial integrity of the country–defend and serve her," said Aliyev. "I will be dedicated to national values–develop and enrich them."
Several dozen Mamedov backers whistled in derision as Aliyev exited his Mercedes and headed for the hall–witnesses said. Mamedov’s aides said police detained six of the protesters.
Greeted by sustained rhythmic applause–Aliyev gave a nearly two-hour speech without notes or a podium in which he called the election "proof that democracy exists in Azerbaijan."
He also focused on the economy and resolving the Caspian oil state’s more than decade-long Karabakh conflict.
"We will decide this question by peaceful means. Its resolution should be based on our territorial integrity. Our borders are sacred. We will use all possible means to restore our territorial integrity," said Aliyev.
"Long live an independent–strong Azerbaijan," he roared in conclusion with a raised fist. The ceremony was followed by a concert and performances by various Azeri celebrities who took turns heaping praise on the man known to many here as "Baba," or "Grandfather."
Television also showed historical footage of Aliyev–who enjoys a state personality cult–during his days as Soviet Communist chief of Azerbaijan.
Resolving the Karabakh conflict–which has defied attempts at international mediation–will be the toughest challenge facing the former Soviet Politburo member and will probably largely determine the way he is remembered by history.
The lack of high hopes for a quick settlement threatens the stability of the tinderbox Caucasus region and Azerbaijan’s efforts to develop its Caspian Sea oil and gas reserves.
Aliyev has signed $40 billion in development deals with foreign firms to help exploit the reserves.