Protest threat follows claim of poll fraud in Azerbaijan

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The Independent Online

News of the planned demonstrations came as international election monitors delivered a damning indictment of Sunday's vote and almost-final results showed that the Azadliq (Freedom) bloc of pro-democracy parties had won just five of the 125 seats. The ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party and an array of mainly pro-government independents looked to have won most of the remainder. A reliable source in the opposition told The Independent that the Azadliq bloc was so shocked by the results and the scale of fraud that it had decided to put what he called "a contingency plan" into action.

"We're going for the revolutionary scenario," he said. "If they had given us 30 seats we wouldn't be in this situation. But five seats! What were they thinking? We have bought orange tents from Turkey, set aside funds to buy food and got hold of portable toilets. If we can get 30,000 people on the streets the police will find it hard to disperse us."

The authorities have authorised the opposition to hold a three-hour rally in Baku, the capital, tomorrow. But such rallies are not open-ended and any attempt to install a permanent presence on Victory Square in the capital, Baku, is likely to spark police violence.

Elin Suleymanov, a senior aide to President Ilham Aliyev, whose family has ruled this oil-rich nation for the majority of the past three decades, told The Independent that the authorities would have no choice but to clamp down on violent demonstrations: "If they want to protest then fine but they must do so within the law. If they do so outside the law the police will be forced to act as they have in the past."

Demonstrations after the rigged 2003 presidential elections were brutally suppressed and at least one protester died.

President Aliyev went on state television to say that his government would look at Western criticism and take "serious measures", but that violations had occurred in few districts.

The opposition has called for recounts in four-fifths of the country's constituencies and its grievances received international recognition yesterday after the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europeand the Council of Europe said the poll failed to meet international standards and was seriously flawed.