Azeri turnout disputed

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Baku - Election officials said more than 67 per cent of Azerbaijan's voters went to the polls yesterday to choose their first post-Soviet parliament and endorse a new constitution.

However, several international observers privately disputed the figures. The joint monitoring commission from the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe planned to report on the voting today.

The turnout is a crucial question because the election is not valid unless at least half Azerbaijan's 4 million-plus voters go to the polls.

Polls were open late to maximise the turnout. Preliminary returns and a final total of voters were not expected until today. However, three hours before polls closed, election officials claimed 67.06 per cent of the electorate had voted.

The government barred several opposition parties and candidates from the election, which was expected to produce a docile parliament obedient to President Geidar Aliev, who is afforded strong powers in the proposed constitution.