February 1, 2018 / 9:19 AM / 3 months ago

Azeri incumbent Aliyev to run for fourth term in Oct presidential election

BAKU, Feb 1 (Reuters) - Azeri President Ilham Aliyev, in office since succeeding his father in 2003, has been nominated as the ruling party’s candidate in the presidential election in October, the party executive secretary said on Thursday.

So far there are no other candidates. If he wins, Aliyev, 56, would enter his fourth term in office.

Azerbaijan’s huge energy reserves and strategic location give it a prominent place in Europe’s hopes of reducing its energy dependence on Russia. Critics say this has diluted Western criticism of Aliyev’s style of rule.

Human rights groups say his rule is authoritarian and that his government is pursuing a sustained crackdown on dissent. He denies these accusations.

Aliyev took over from his father, Heydar, who ruled Azerbaijan initially as a Communist Party leader in the Soviet Union and then as president following independence.

Aliyev cemented his position in power with two referendums, one in 2009 which scrapped a two-term presidential limit, and another in 2016, in which he extended the head of state’s term of office to seven years from five, steps his critics saw as illegal and undemocratic.

“I hope that our youth, those, who are members of (ruling) Yeni Azerbaijan Party, will do their best for victory of the party’s candidate Ilham Aliyev in this important political event,” Ali Akhmedov, the ruling party’s executive secretary and the country’s deputy prime minister, told reporters.

The election is set for Oct. 17.

Aliyev has tried to strike a balance between Moscow and the West, notably on energy policy. His rule benefited from an economic boom fueled by oil exports, but a slump in global oil prices in the last three years has weakened the Azeri manat currency and contracted the economy.

In its World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch said the authorities in Azerbaijan had over the past year waged a “sustained a concerted assault on government critics, threatening the survival of independent activism in the country”.

At least 25 journalists and political and youth activists were sentenced to long prison terms in politically motivated, unfair trials in 2017, the report said. (Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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