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Azerbaijan voted yesterday in presidential elections that could herald the unraveling of the Commonwealth of Independent States and a decisive phase in the country's undeclared war with Armenia.

Popular Front leader Abdulfaz Elchibey, the man most likely to win the election in this former Soviet republic, rejected Azerbaijan's participation in the struggling commonwealth. He also said he supported deploying United Nations peacekeeping forces along the border with Armenia. Baku is against foreign intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh.

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"First of all there has to be a cease-fire ... then we will begin talks," he said.

Under Mr. Elchibey, this oil-producing Transcaucasian nation would lean toward Turkey in foreign policy and pursue free-market reforms. But the main issue for most Azeris is Nagorno-Karabakh.

All five presidential candidates say Karabakh is part of Azerbaijan. But their approaches to asserting Azeri power in the enclave vary, with the Popular Front leader taking a relatively hard line.

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