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The U.S. human rights watchdog Freedom House upgraded Nagorno-Karabakh’s status from “not free” to “partly free” in an annual global survey of civil rights and liberties released on Wednesday.

“Nagorno-Karabakh’s status improved from Not Free to Partly Free due to a competitive presidential vote in July,” reads the latest edition of its “Freedom in the World” report. It says that the election saw the participation of “a genuine opposition.”

Freedom House referred to Vitaly Balasanian, a retired army general who challenged Bako Sahakian, the disputed territory’s incumbent president.

According to official results of the July 19 election, Sahakian was reelected with 66.7 percent of the vote, while Balasanian got 32.5 percent. The latter called the vote “free but not fair.”

The Karabakh ballot was hailed by Armenia but condemned as illegitimate by Azerbaijan. The U.S., Russian and French mediators, for their part, said they “acknowledge the need for the de facto authorities [in Karabakh] to try to organize democratically the public life of their population with such a procedure.”

Armenia was also rated “partly free” in the Freedom House survey covering 195 nations. Still, the watchdog raised the country’s “political rights” rating from 6 to 5, citing “peaceful” parliamentary elections held there in May 2012. It said the polls “rebalanced the decline stemming from the violent aftermath of the 2008 presidential vote.”

Arch Puddington, Freedom House's vice president for research, referred to Armenia as one of the few “bright spots” in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union. “Otherwise, Eurasia is one massive sea of not-free countries,” he said.

Azerbaijan is one of the countries that are considered “not free” by Freedom House. The group based in Washington and New York believes that “basic political rights are absent, and basic civil liberties are widely and systematically denied” there.
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