* Monitors cite ballot-stuffing, flawed counting
* Re-elected president Aliyev thanks Azeris for support
* Opposition says it will take results to court
* U.S. says vote "fell short of international standards"
By Lada Evgrashina and Margarita Antidze
BAKU, Oct 10 Opponents of Azerbaijan's President
Ilham Aliyev said on Thursday they would go to court to
challenge his election to a third term, rejecting the result of
a vote that international monitors said was seriously flawed.
Aliyev, who succeeded his father a decade ago as leader of
the oil-producing former Soviet republic, won a third five-year
term with nearly 85 percent of the vote in Wednesday's election.
Standing before a national flag on state television, he
thanked Azeris for their support and said he would ensure
security in the South Caucasus, where tensions still simmer with
neighbouring Armenia over a disputed territory.
Opposition candidate Jamal Hasanly said he aimed to
challenge the official result in the Constitutional Court,
alleging violations including ballot stuffing and multiple
voting. "This election was neither free or fair," he said.
Aliyev, 51, has overseen an economic boom that has raised
living standards in the Caspian Sea nation, which pumps oil and
gas to Europe, bypassing Russia. He has allowed Washington to
use it as a transit point for sending troops to Afghanistan.
But he has faced criticism at home and abroad over his
treatment of opponents. Media are tightly controlled, protests
quashed, and one rights group said a pre-election crackdown had
doubled the number of political prisoners.
International monitors from the Organisation for Security
and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the vote was marred by a
"restrictive media environment" and allegations of intimidation
of candidates and voters.
"The limitations placed on the fundamental freedoms of
assembly, association, and expression, the lack of a level
playing field, the allegations of intimidation, all came in the
lead up to an election day that our observers found to be
seriously flawed," OSCE official Tana de Zulueta said.
Monitors reported clear indications of ballot-stuffing at
37 polling stations, and said the counting was assessed
negatively at an unprecedented 58 per cent of stations observed.
An OSCE news conference degenerated into chaos as
journalists from pro-government media drowned out the observers
and shouted "The OSCE is biased."
The U.S. State Department said Washington agreed with the
OSCE that the election "fell short of international standards".
In a statement, it urged the Azeri government to respect freedom
of peaceful assembly, association and speech and to prevent
violence in the post-electoral period.
Hasanly, 61, a former lawmaker who has united Azerbaijan's
fractured opposition for the first time in a presidential
election, told journalists: "When (officials) announce the final
official results of the election and declare Ilham Aliyev as the
president, we will address the Constitutional Court with a
demand to cancel the election results."
A gaping divide between the rich and poor and allegations of
corruption, which Azeris say pervades many aspects of life, has
led to an increase in unrest, and the opposition plans a rally
But few expect sustained protests over a vote whose results
many saw as a foregone conclusion because of Aliyev's tight grip
over the South Caucasus nation of 9 million.
Aliyev said he has reduced poverty drastically. But with an
average monthly salary of 500 manats ($600), few Azeris can
afford the designer boutiques and five-star hotels that dot the
capital Baku, on the shore of the Caspian.
Rights groups say Azerbaijan's strategic location between
Russia and Iran, its oil reserves, Europe-bound energy
pipelines and support role for U.S. operations in Afghanistan
have cushioned it from Western criticism.
Aliyev has dismissed accusations of human rights abuses and
says Azeris enjoy full democratic freedoms. He won the
presidency in 2003 and 2008 in votes that international
observers said fell short of democratic standards.