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Violent Protest In Azerbaijan

An estimated seven to eight thousand people gathered in Galaba Square in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, to demand a rerun of parliamentary elections, which the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the United States and others had criticized for fraud. Even as opposition leaders continued to address the crowd and discuss whether the rally would become a sitting protest, hundreds of police in riot gear used water cannons and truncheons to violently disperse the demonstrators. Opposition representatives reported hundreds of casualties. The Baku police claimed to have suffered a number of injuries.

The U.S. embassy in Azerbaijan issued a statement condemning the police actions against the demonstrators. "We deplore the unjustified violence and unprovoked use of force against citizens peacefully exercising their right to freedom of assembly," said the statement. The government of President Ilham Aliyev should "investigate and punish those responsible" for the violence.

Following the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections, the observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called the vote-counting process in more than forty percent of the precincts "bad" or "very bad." President Aliyev responded by firing three regional governors and ordering an investigation. Dozens of election officials have been dismissed and four have been arrested pending further investigation into alleged election law violations. Results from hundreds of precincts were cancelled and the outcomes from six districts were overturned, with new elections expected in four districts.

The Central Election Commission has completed its investigation of reported fraud, but it is unclear whether the measures taken so far have fully addressed doubts about the credibility of the elections in various districts. The constitutional court in Azerbaijan now has the important task of certifying election results. The court has the authority to change the outcome of certain races if it finds sufficient evidence of fraud.

The credibility of the new parliament and the strength of its mandate depend on the government's ability to address the concerns about fraud in the election process. The people of Azerbaijan deserve a free and fair election process. The government should also respect the right of its citizens peacefully to assemble and air their grievances.

The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States Government.