- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 5, 2005

BAKU, Azerbaijan (Agence France-Presse) — On the eve of a key parliamentary election, Azerbaijan yesterday detained visiting leaders of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” who had planned to monitor the vote.

A leader of Ukraine’s Pora (It’s Time) youth movement, which played an important role in toppling an entrenched regime in Ukraine last year, said a group of 16 Ukrainians who flew from Kiev to monitor the poll were being held in Baku’s international airport.

“They told us we are unwanted in Azerbaijan,” said Volodymyr Zolotaryov, a leader of the group, adding that officials had confiscated their passports and were refusing to allow them to pass through passport control.

The Ukrainians, who under Azerbaijani law are not required to obtain visas to enter the country, were not given the opportunity to contact the Ukrainian Embassy in Baku, Mr. Zolotaryov said.

Azerbaijani border officials were not immediately available for comment.

More than 1,500 international election observers have converged on Azerbaijan to monitor today’s vote, seen as test of democracy in this oil-rich republic where Western firms have invested billions of dollars.

Corruption-ridden Azerbaijan has a history of rigged elections and observers fear today’s vote could turn into a repeat of 2003 presidential elections that were marred by fraud and resulted in violent dispersals of protests.

In recent months, Azerbaijani police have attacked opposition rallies and detained opposition supporters. Reports on state-run press have been prejudiced against opposition parties, international observers say.

Government opponents accuse authorities of cracking down because they fear a peaceful revolt like the one that swept corrupt Ukraine rulers from power will happen here.

“I think they’re not letting us in because we were associated with the opposition in Kiev and have ties to the opposition here,” Mr. Zolotaryov of the detained Ukrainian group told Agence France-Presse by telephone.

In September Azerbaijan deported a Pora leader who had planned to attend a conference organized by Azerbaijan’s opposition Azadliq bloc, after holding him in the airport for three days.

Azadliq has threatened to mount major street protests along the lines of Ukraine’s “Orange Revolution” in the event of a rigged poll.

The Associated Press reported yesterday that the campaign chief of an exiled opposition leader had been detained.

About 15 law-enforcement officers raided the headquarters of the Democratic Party of Azerbaijan on Thursday and seized election materials for party head Rasul Guliyev, said Nureddin Ismaylov, the party’s press attache.

Faramaz Javadov, the campaign chief, was detained, the spokesman told AP.

No one at the Interior Ministry could be reached for confirmation.

Mr. Guliyev, a former parliamentary speaker, has been living in the United States for the past decade to avoid embezzlement charges he says are politically motivated.

Scores of his supporters have been detained.

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