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Several thousand people protested in Baku on 10 March, in a rally organised by Azerbaijan’s two largest opposition groups against President Ilham Aliyev. The groups have announced they plan to boycott the presidential elections scheduled for 11 April.
The protest was organised by the Musavat party and the National Council of Democratic Forces (NCDF), the two biggest opposition groups in Azerbaijan. The NCDF, a coalition of opposition parties, includes the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan (PFPA), several members of which have been imprisoned on what rights groups say are politically motivated charges.
Although the rally was sanctioned by the authorities, organisers were warned by police that they could not use slogans other than the ones included in the letter of acceptance to the Mayor’s Office.
Baku police estimated that only 1,500 people took part in the rally, while the opposition claims their number reached 10,000.
Caucasian Knot quoted Ali Kerimli, the leader of the Popular Front, as saying that the intention of the demonstration was to ‘say no to robbery, false elections, and monarchy’. He said that during his 15 years as President, Aliyev’s government has been ‘unable solve any problem’ in the country.
The President’s Office issued a decree in early February, bringing forward the election from 17 October to 11 April. Aliyev had already announced his intention to run for a fourth term earlier in February.
Ilham Aliyev, from the ruling New Azerbaijan Party, has led the country for 15 years. He was first elected in 2003, taking over from his late father Heydar Aliyev, who had ruled the country since independence. He was re-elected in 2008 and 2013.
The official results of the 2013 elections gave Aliyev almost 85% of the vote, but the results have been questioned by a number of observers. The final report from OSCE observation mission reported widespread candidate and voter intimidation, as well as a limited media environment, and arrests and the use of force against journalists and activists.
If re-elected again, Aliyev could remain in office until at least 2025.