Prince Andrew's role under scrutiny again

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The Independent Online

The Duke of York's role as Britain's trade envoy came under scrutiny again today - this time over his links with a leader of a former Soviet republic.

Andrew has visited Azerbaijan a number of times in an official capacity and is said to have forged ties with its president Ilham Aliyev - a political figure whose regime has been criticised by Amnesty International.

The leading human rights organisation has condemned the oil-rich state for its violence towards and harassment of civil society activists with near impunity.

Earlier this week Amnesty called on the state's authorities to end their crackdown, which they claim includes torture, on protesters planning events this Friday inspired by the recent demonstrations in the Middle East and North Africa.

Buckingham Palace has stressed that the Dukes' role as a roving business ambassador in Azerbaijan was at the request of the Government and focused on "oil, gas and energy security issues" which had the potential to deliver opportunities for UK firms.

London's Evening Standard newspaper has quoted a royal source as saying the Queen has given Andrew, said to be her favourite son, her "full backing".

The Duke has remained under the spotlight this week after further media coverage over the weekend of his links with American billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who was sentenced to 18 months in prison in 2008 for soliciting a minor for prostitution.

Andrew has also faced criticism for entertaining the son-in-law of ousted Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali at Buckingham Palace.