Azeri Opposition Leader Declares Victory in Vote

THE leader of the nationalist Azerbaijan Popular Front, Abulfaz Elchibey, declared victory in the election held Sunday for a new president of the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

According to unofficial results gathered by the Popular Front, which controls the interim government, Mr. Elchibey had won 64 percent of the vote. The turnout was said to be 73 percent of the registered voters of this Caucasus state on the Caspian Sea.

Official results however will not be released for several days, according to the Central Election Commission. Elchibey had been widely favored in polls and by observers to easily win in a five candidate field.

His most serious opponent, a more radical nationalist figure, dropped out days before the vote. The main challenger was Nizami Suleimanov, head of the Association of Democratic Forces and an academic appealing to the intelligentsia.

The election campaign comes after months of political turmoil sparked by military setbacks in Azerbaijan's war with Armenian guerrillas seeking self-determination for the Armenian-populated enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh within Azerjaiban. Last month the Armenian forces succeeded in gaining virtual total control of the region and opening a narrow land corridor to the neighboring Armenian republic, breaking an Azeri-imposed blockade.

All Azeri presidential candidates refused to yield sovereignty over Nagorno-Karabakh.

Elchibey, a long-time anti-Communist nationalist activist, has expressed a willingness to enter into talks to settle the problem with some form of international mediation. But he reiterated the Azeri government's previous refusal to allow deployment of United Nations or other peacekeeping forces to enforce a cease-fire. UN troops could be stationed only along the Azeri-Armenia border but not in Karabakh which lies within Azerbaijan, he told reporters on Sunday according to Reuters news agency.

Elchibey also reiterated his claim that Azerbaijan would no longer participate the the Commonwealth of Independent States, which replaced the Soviet Union.

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