Azerbaijan detains 50 opposition protesters
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Last Updated: Sunday, March 13, 2011, 00:06
Baku: Police in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan today detained 50 opposition activists who tried for a second day to stage an anti-government protest inspired by the uprisings in the Arab world.

Some 200 members of the opposition Musavat party gathered at Fountain Square in central Baku for the protest but were quickly dispersed by police, an AFP reporter at the scene said.

Protesters, Musavat leaders Arif Hajili and Tofik Yakublu, chanted "Liberty! Resignation!" as uniformed and plain-clothes police led them away into police buses. Some of them were released soon afterwards.

"Police detained 50 citizens on March 12," the interior ministry said in a statement. It said 30 were released, but another 20 were still being held and would later appear in court.

Isa Gambar, the head of Musavat, said to a news agency that a revolution in Azerbaijan was imminent if the authorities failed to initiate democratic reforms.

"Our message to the authorities is: 'Carry out fundamental reforms, if you do not want a revolution'," Gambar said.

"Today's demonstration is historic, it marks the start of a democratic movement in Azerbaijan."

On Friday police arrested over 40 young activists trying to organise nationwide protests against the regime led by President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father Heydar in 2003, through social networking site Facebook.

The authorities arrested at least five activists last week ahead of the protests in a bid to stifle opposition in the secular Muslim majority state.

Amnesty International has urged Azerbaijan to "stop this crackdown immediately and allow activists to organise peaceful protests."

The European Union delegation and the United States ambassador to Azerbaijan have also voiced their concern over arrests.

Energy-rich Azerbaijan has been courted by foreign governments for its oil and gas supplies, but critics have accused the West of tempering criticism of rights abuses there to safeguard their economic interests.

Masters of vast Caspian oil wealth, the Aliyev family has ruled Azerbaijan since 1993 when Ilham Aliyev's father Heydar became president. Heydar Aliyev was succeeded by his son when he died in 2003.

Opposition critics accuse the Aliyev dynasty of rigging elections, crushing dissent, jailing opponents and stifling the media in this country of eight million people.


First Published: Sunday, March 13, 2011, 00:06

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