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Azerbaijan arrests head of independent vote monitor

Azerbaijani authorities have arrested the head of an independent election monitoring group after it criticised presidential polls that secured a new term for strongman Ilham Aliyev, one of his colleagues said Tuesday.

Baku: Azerbaijani authorities have arrested the head of an independent election monitoring group after it criticised presidential polls that secured a new term for strongman Ilham Aliyev, one of his colleagues said Tuesday.

A Baku court on Monday ordered Anar Mammadli -- chairman of the Election Monitoring and Democracy Studies Centre (EMDS) -- to spend three months in pre-trial detention in connection with an investigation into alleged tax evasion.

"We were summoned to the prosecutor`s office as part of the investigation that was started in October," EMDS executive director Bashir Suleymanli told a news agency.

"I was let go two hours later and then the state-appointed lawyer called to say that Anar Mamedli had been arrested," he said.

Baku-based EMDS -- partially funded by Washington and the European Union -- reported numerous violations including ballot-stuffing at the October 9 presidential vote.

EMDS concluded that the poll "could not be considered free and democratic."

Aliyev secured a third term with some 85 percent of the vote to extend his family`s decades-long grip on power in the tightly-controlled ex-Soviet state.

The government has lashed out at criticism by observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe that the vote was "seriously flawed".

The 51-year-old Aliyev took power in 2003 in a disputed election after the death of his father Heydar, a former KGB officer and Communist-era boss.

Any sign of dissent usually meets a harsh reaction in the oil-rich nation and rights groups have accused the authorities of continuing a ruthless crackdown on opponents that has seen scores of government critics jailed.