FIVE AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION ACTIVISTS LAUNCH HUNGER STRIKE

The Associated Press
08/31/05 16:11 EDT

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) - Five Azerbaijani opposition activists launched
a hunger strike Wednesday to demand the release of their jailed leader.

"We will conduct this action until the authorities fulfill our
demands," Said Nuriyev, deputy head of the Yeni Fikir youth party,
told journalists.

Party leader Ruslan Bashirli was detained in early August, after a
fellow party member accused him of taking part in a secret July meeting
with agents from Azerbaijan's rival, Armenia, aimed at organizing an
uprising by pro-democracy forces in Azerbaijan.

Tensions are high in Azerbaijan ahead of Nov. 6 parliamentary
elections. Opposition parties have rallied almost weekly amid fears
that the government of President Ilham Aliev could try to rig the
voting.

Visiting U.S. Senator Richard Lugar expressed hope for fair elections,
saying: "I sense in Azerbaijan a yearning for building strong
democratic institutions."

"I believe that the elections can be free and fair, and I was impressed
by the preparations made by the elections commission," Lugar told
a news conference during a visit. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who
is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was touring
several former Soviet republics with Democratic colleague Barack Obama,
of Illinois.

Azerbaijan's October 2003 presidential election, in which Aliev
succeeded his ailing father who died after the vote, was widely
alleged to have been fraudulent and the outcome triggered violent
clashes between police and demonstrators.