Monday, April 18, 2011

Police thwart Azerbaijan democracy rally

Police in the energy-rich former Soviet state of Azerbaijan staged a show of force yesterday to prevent an unauthorised pro-democracy rally, arresting activists who were attempting to protest.

In the latest clampdown in the mainly Muslim country where demonstrations are rarely tolerated, riot officers with batons cleared Sahir Park in central Baku, where the opposition wanted to hold the banned rally.

Few activists approached the park, but many of those who tried to do so were detained, including a woman with a young child who shouted the word "Freedom!"

The opposition said that more than 100 people were held, including two Swedish journalists who were later released, although the authorities said that 65 people had been detained.

"Today's action again demonstrated the willingness of Azerbaijani society for change, and the readiness of the authorities to prevent change," the leader of the opposition Musavat party, Isa Gambar, told AFP.

But a leading official from the governing party said that the failed protest showed that an impotent opposition had "collapsed".

"This once again shows that the people of Azerbaijan have a negative attitude towards such actions," said the offical, Mubariz Gurbanli.

Police have broken up three other small protests over the past two months, detaining dozens of opposition supporters.

The opposition had been offered a protest venue on the outskirts of the capital, but refused to hold their rally there.

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