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RFE/RL Journalists Report Fraud in Azerbaijani Referendum

Azerbaijan -- Officials count ballots after polls closed in a referendum in Baku, 18Mar2009
(PRAGUE, Czech Republic) During yesterday's controversial referendum on abolishing presidential term limits in Azerbaijan, RFE/RL journalists reported violations of election rules throughout the country. They witnessed the busing of voters from one polling station to another, the stuffing of ballot boxes, and illegal election day campaigning. In one instance, RFE/RL obtained video of a woman in Baku who appears to be voting three times [watch].

According to official preliminary results, 92.2 percent of voters approved the measure to allow Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev the opportunity to rule the oil-rich South Caucasus country for life. Azerbaijan now joins Belarus as the only other European country to scrap term limits for its chief executive.

Without such limits, "a president can turn into a dictator," said Ian Micallef, a senior official with the Council of Europe. Micallef told RFE/RL that Azerbaijan's plan to do away with presidential terms limits violates commitments on democracy Baku made to the Council in 2002 and could eventually lead to Azerbaijan's suspension from the organization.

Several months before the referendum, the Azeri government banned RFE/RL and other foreign broadcasters from the FM airwaves. Nevertheless, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service provided minute-by-minute coverage of yesterday's referendum and continues to broadcast comprehensive daily news and analysis on shortwave, satellite, and the Internet.

About RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service
For more than 50 years, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service (Radio Azadliq) has operated within a challenging media environment as a dependable source of professional, independent, and up-to-the minute information and news. Broadcasting for 10 hours each day, Radio Azadliq puts the values of democracy and independence firmly at the center of its mission and is the country's most popular international broadcaster.