US welcomes 'progress' in Azerbaijan election

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The United States on Thursday welcomed "progress" in Azerbaijan's presidential election despite criticism in Europe over the absence of a real opposition candidate.

The US reaction was in contrast to that from Europe's OSCE watchdog which said the election -- in which incumbent President Ilham Aliyev won 90 percent of the vote -- did not reflect democratic principles.

"We congratulate the Azerbaijani people on having this election and instituting some improvements in the way this election occurred over previous elections," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

McCormack cited the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe's reference to progress, but not its criticism.

More than 400 observers from the OSCE and other groups monitored the vote, which was boycotted by the opposition who accused authorities in Baku of persecuting Aliyev's opponents, muzzling the media and fixing previous polls.

Asked if the voting result bothered Washington, McCormack said: "Well, like I said, there's more to be done, but it was an improvement. The assessment of the monitors on the ground was that it was an improvement over past elections."