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article imageNagorny Karabakh votes in 'illegal' referendum

By AFP     Feb 20, 2017 in World

Azerbaijan's separatist Nagorny Karabakh region voted Monday in a referendum on presidential powers that international observers warned was illegal and obstructed efforts to end the festering territorial feud.

The proposed constitutional amendments -- if endorsed by at least 25 percent of registered voters -- will see the region's form of governance change from semi-presidential to fully presidential.

The referendum drew Baku's ire even if its outcome may have no immediate impact on the Karabakh peace talks, and the region's authorities have operated as de-facto independent from the central government for over two decades.

Ex-Soviet Azerbaijan and Armenia have feuded over the Nagorny Karabakh region since Armenian separatists seized the territory in a war that claimed some 30,000 lives in the early 1990s.

Voting in the "constitutional referendum" started at 0400 GMT at 280 polling stations and will last until 1600 GMT, Karabakh's central election commission said.

"The change is aimed at strengthening the mechanisms of ensuring the security of our country, its democracy, protection of human rights and the effectiveness of governance," the speaker of the separatist parliament, Ashot Gulyan, told journalists.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and international mediators to the Karabakh conflict -- the so-called Minsk Group consisting of diplomats from France, Russia, and the United States -- have denounced the referendum as illegal.

"The referendum... is illegal and by holding it the Armenian side proves once again that it is not interested in the settlement of the Karabakh conflict," Aliyev said on Saturday.

The Minsk Group co-chairs said in a statement that they "do not accept the results of the referendum on February 20 as affecting the legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh."

The two sides never signed a firm peace deal despite a 1994 truce and have regularly exchanged fire across their shared border and along the frontline.

A Russian-brokered ceasefire ended four days of fierce fighting in April that risked escalating into a full-scale war.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan, whose military spending exceeds Armenia's entire state budget, has repeatedly threatened to take back the breakaway region by force.

But Moscow-allied Armenia has vowed to crush any military offensive.

More about Armenia, Azerbaijan, karabakh, Unrest, Vote
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