Fri, Oct 17, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Azerbaijan election sees son of ailing leader triumphing

REUTERS , BAKU

The son of Azerbaijan's ailing leader Haydar Aliyev was all but declared president yesterday, securing a runaway lead in an election to seal a dynastic succession on pledges of stability for his people and investors.

Ilham Aliyev has vowed to pursue the policies of his father, the dominant force in the ex-Soviet state since the 1960s and viewed by Western companies as the figure who preserved order and opened doors to investors hungry to tap crude oil and gas riches.

Election officials said with almost 85 percent of all votes counted, 79.52 percent of Azerbaijan's eight million people voted for Aliyev junior. His closest rival, opposition standardbearer, Isa Gambar, was on almost 12 percent.

A victory for Ilham, with his father still undergoing treatment in a US hospital, would further entrench the Aliyev family in power. Ilham became prime minister in August at Aliyev senior's behest and other relatives occupy key positions.

It would also reassure investors keen to ensure calm in a country jolted by turbulent politics and bloodshed at the end of the Soviet era and in the aftermath of the fall of communism.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told a daily briefing: "Indications are that the voting has gone smoothly, with no reports of violence." But he said the US regretted that Azerbaijani non-governmental groups receiving foreign assistance were unable to observe the voting.

Despite criticism of voting conduct from some Western observers, both Ilham's and Gambar's supporters were quick to declare victory after voting closed on Wednesday.

But celebrations outside the opposition headquarters turned sour when hundreds of supporters scuffled briefly with riot police outside the opposition's headquarters. Some protesters were clubbed to the ground, but the crowd dispersed later in the night.

In the early hours, Gambar, who had said he had won Wednesday's election with 60 percent support, agreed with police to leave his headquarters where he had barricaded himself with advisers.

Ali Akhmedov, Ilham's executive party secretary, said Ilham's victory was one also for his father, who voted in the Cleveland hospital where he is being treated for heart and kidney problems.

"This is the success of Haydar Aliyev's policies," he said.

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