BAKU (Reuters) – President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan scheduled snap parliamentary elections for Sept. 1 in a decree published on Friday in a widely expected move that appears unlikely to radically change the parliament’s make-up.

Aliyev, in power since 2003, won a snap presidential election in February, and his New Azerbaijan Party, which holds 69 of 125 seats in the outgoing parliament, is expected to win a fresh majority in the oil-rich country, which has been courted by the West, Russia and Turkey.

Opposition deputies in parliament are loyal to Aliyev, but some opponents outside parliament say they have faced persecution after a string of independent journalists and political activists were arrested ahead of this year’s presidential election, which Aliyev won with more by 92% of the vote.

Some of those detained faced charges for what they said were politically-motivated crimes, including smuggling. The authorities said the arrests were not political.

Aliyev has touted the success of a September lightning offensive which retook the former breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh from what Baku said were its illegitimate ethnic Armenian leaders.

Almost all of the region’s more than 100,000 ethnic Armenians fled and Baku is now rebuilding the region amid plans to resettle it with Azerbaijanis.

Western energy firms such as BP operate in Azerbaijan, which is party to the “OPEC+” pact between the OPEC oil producers’ club and other key exporters such as Russia to restrict output in order to support world prices.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; writing by Felix Light; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

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