Police beat Azerbaijan protesters

Truncheon-wielding police have beaten and dispersed opposition protesters demanding a re-vote of disputed parliamentary elections in Azerbaijan.

    About 15,000 people protested over the 6 November election

    About 15,000 opposition activists gathered on


    in Azerbaijan's

    capital, Baku, to protest the outcome of the 6 November

    parliamentary elections, which they said were rigged -

    the latest in a series of such opposition actions in recent


    Unlike previous rallies, the demonstrators on Saturday tried to set up a permanent protest on a square in downtown Baku, triggering a swift police crackdown - the first time since the vote.

    After opposition leaders said they were going

    to stage a sit-in on the square, police, in riot

    gear, rushed to disperse them, beating them with truncheons

    and pushing them away.

    Protesters shouted "Freedom!" and some hurled stones at

    the police who hid behind shields.

    Dozens detained

    Hundreds of soldiers and police officers 

    quickly pushed protesters away from the square. They

    shattered a stand used by opposition leaders and broke the

    opposition's orange banners - the colour borrowed from

    Ukraine's Orange Revolution.

    Riot police used truncheons,
    water cannons and tear gas

    Baku's deputy police chief, Yashar Aliev, said 18 officers

    were injured in the clash with the protesters. He added that

    29 rally participants had been detained.

    Police used water cannons to drive protesters away from a n

    earby street.

    Opposition leaders said scores of protesters were beaten

    and many were badly injured, some  admitted to hospital.

    "They used force against a peaceful rally without any

    prior notice," said Ali Kerimli, head of the Popular

    Front, one of the parties in the Azadliq (Freedom) opposition bloc

    that organised the protest.

    "Today Azerbaijani authorities

    showed their real face."

    Police officials, at a news conference, justified the use of force against the demonstrators

    , saying the demonstration "was not peaceful". They branded the opposition as "provocateurs".

    They said the authorities had allowed the rally to last for two

    hours, and police intervened only after the deadline expired and

    the protesters' leaders said they were turning it into a

    sit-down rally.

    US condemnation

    The US denounced the

    police action.

    "We deplore the unjustified and unprovoked use of force against

    citizens peacefully exercising their right to freedom of assembly,"

    the US embassy in Baku said.

    "The US embassy strongly condemns the police violence today

    against supporters of the Azadliq bloc," it said, and

    called on the government to "punish those


    "They used force against a peaceful rally without any

    prior notice.

    Today Azerbaijani authorities

    showed their real face"

    Ali Kerimli, head of the opposition Popular Front party

    International observers had criticised the 6 November polls,

    saying they fell below democratic standards.

    But Western

    countries concerned about maintaining stability in the

    oil-rich Caspian Sea state bordering Iran have not endorsed

    opposition demands for   repeating elections.


    elections gave

    President Ilham Aliev's government victory but trimmed his

    party's dominance of the 125-seat national legislature to just

    under the absolute 63-seat majority it won under preliminary vote


    The opposition won only 10 seats,

    while the rest went to

    little-known independent candidates, generally regarded as ready-made

    allies of the ruling party.

    Opposition's failure

    Regular opposition protests had encouraged expectations

    that Azerbaijan was heading for a popular uprising like

    those that brought opposition leaders to power in other former

    Soviet nations of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

    But the opposition has failed to

    capitalise on resentment over corruption that has helped to 

    keep more than 40% of people in poverty despite the country's

    oil wealth.

    Official restrictions on demonstrations along with

    widespread public apathy and the opposition's weakness mean

    that attendance at rallies often falls short of 


    Kerimli said the opposition would stage another rally next


    SOURCE: Agencies


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