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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azerbaijan Rejects European Criticism

BAKU, Azerbaijan -- President Ilham Aliyev's office on Tuesday rejected European criticism of the government's preparations for the weekend parliamentary election, saying that authorities had significantly liberalized election procedures.

Aliyev's office said a critical assessment of preparations for the election by the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe failed to take into account the government's agreement last week to take steps to prevent fraud. The steps include the use of invisible ink and ultraviolet light monitors to prevent people from voting more than once.

Aliyev also directed that Azeri nongovernmental organizations that receive more than 30 percent of their funding from foreign sources should be allowed to monitor the balloting. Such organizations had previously been banned from monitoring. And he instructed election authorities to ensure that voter lists include voters' addresses.

"I am sure that if the paper had reflected the president's instructions of Oct. 25, many of the criticisms would have lost their actuality," said Ali Hasanov, director of the social and political department of the presidential administration. He said that the report had reviewed the situation only until Oct. 21.

Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch group said that it would be impossible to hold a free and fair parliamentary election in Azerbaijan due to violence and intimidation of the opposition.

In a report issued Monday, the group described arrests and beatings of opposition supporters, and expressed fear of a new crackdown against protesters.

"The existing climate of intimidation, particularly against the opposition Azadliq bloc, has sent a strong message to voters about whom they should support" in Sunday's balloting, Human Rights Watch said. "Equally worrisome ... is a real potential for violent confrontation if the opposition decides to attempt large-scale protests after the November elections."

Mathilde Bogner, a Baku-based researcher with Human Rights Watch, said that Aliyev's Oct. 25 instructions were probably too late to have an effect on the campaign. She said that the group had seen no evidence that police or local authorities had been brought to account for violations so far.

Azeri election officials ruled Tuesday that voters could use Soviet-era passports and temporary documents as proof of identity during this Sunday's election, temporarily defusing a dispute with devout Muslim women who said their civil rights were being trampled.