updated 11/8/2005 2:02:40 PM ET 2005-11-08T19:02:40

Azerbaijan's election commission on Tuesday annulled the results of the weekend parliamentary vote in two districts and ordered a recount in another, while the ruling party claimed victory.

The rulings by the Central Election Commission followed opposition accusations of massive fraud and a critical assessment by a Western-dominated monitoring mission in Sunday's vote.

President Ilham Aliev on Monday acknowledged violations in seven or eight of the country's 125 electoral districts and said prosecutors would investigate.

But he praised the election as a whole and said they reflected the will of the people.

His New Azerbaijan Party won 63 parliamentary seats, according to preliminary official results.

Party secretary Ali Ahmadov called it a "convincing victory."

Presidential spokesman Azer Gasimov accused the opposition of exaggerating the foreign observers' criticism.

He emphasized that the observer mission led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the Council of Europe had pointed to Azerbaijan's failure to meet some — not all — international election standards.

"The opposition is misinforming public opinion," he said at a news conference. "The Azerbaijani opposition isn't capable of admitting its own defeat."

‘We have many facts’
The election commission is preparing a request for prosecutors to look into specific reports of violations, he said, without elaborating.

The commission annulled the results in two constituencies and ordered a recount in Surakhani, where one of the opposition's three main leaders, Ali Kerimli, had run.

The races were declared earlier to have been won by pro-government candidates.

"We're beginning to see a change. They've already acknowledged there were falsifications," Kerimli told The Associated Press. "We have very many facts — thousands of reports — and we will act on all of them."

Earlier Tuesday, opposition leader Isa Gambar said his coalition had no faith in the authorities' commitment to address the violations, which it has said were massive.

The Azadliq (Freedom) coalition already has appealed to the election commission to overturn results in many districts.

The coalition contends the balloting in four-fifths of polling places was marred by so many violations that it should be annulled.

Gambar said the coalition would turn to the European Court of Human Rights if the domestic court system did not deliver justice — which he considered a certainty.

"We are convinced that the Azerbaijani justice system unfortunately is not independent, it fulfills the orders of the president's office," he told AP.

Massive rally planned for Wednesday
Azadliq has received authorities' permission to hold what it promises will be a massive rally in Baku on Wednesday.

The coalition, which tries to emulate the peaceful Orange Revolution in Ukraine, hopes to mobilize disgruntled citizens who still live in poverty despite Azerbaijan's oil riches.

Kerimli said the opposition hopes to bring 50,000 supporters into the streets and to include other opposition leaders who have kept their distance from Azadliq — seen by some critics as representative of a more than decade-old movement that has achieved little.

A Western-dominated observer group said Monday the election fell short of international standards, and that the government had reneged on its promises to deliver a clean vote.

Aliev said his government would study the foreign observers' reports and take steps to correct shortcomings — including ordering prosecutors to investigate.

He said, however, that the election had been a success and that violations had occurred only in a small number of districts.

"Azerbaijan has stepped into a new stage of its democratic development," he said.

An Aliev aide, Elin Suleymanov, suggested the government might call for a recount.

That would fall far short of the opposition's demands, but could provide a face-saving way for the West to say that Azerbaijan was willing to work toward greater democracy.

‘Major irregularities’
The West is intent on maintaining stability in Azerbaijan, with its oil wealth and strategic position between Russia and Iran.

Some opposition figures have accused the West of failing to put sufficient pressure on Aliev to ensure a democratic election.

Washington urged a government investigation.

While there were some improvements over previous elections, "there were major irregularities and fraud that are of serious concern," State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said.

Russia, which clashed with the West during the Ukrainian election, assailed what Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin termed a "hasty" and "counterproductive" verdict by the Western observers.

A Russian-led observer mission said the vote in Azerbaijan met legal standards.

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