Police break up opposition rally in Azerbaijan

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 21, 2011 10:01 AM
Police break up opposition rally in Azerbaijan

By Lada Yevgrashina

BAKU (Reuters) - Azerbaijan police detained more than 30 activists of the opposition Musavat Party when its members took to the street of Baku on Saturday to protest against the ruling elite following a similar rally a day before.

Azerbaijan, an energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has been ruled by one family for nearly two decades since Soviet veteran Heydar Aliyev came to power in 1993. He was succeeded by his son Ilham in 2003.

About 200 members of Musavat gathered at Fountains Square in central Baku to stage a rally, which the party said had been banned by the authorities on the basis that it would disrupt traffic. The party staged its first street protest after parliamentary elections in November when opposition parties failed to win a single seat.

Demonstrators shouted "Resign!" and "Freedom!" before security servicemen began pushing people into cars, detaining at least 30 including Arif Gadzhily, Musavat's chief of staff.

Earlier on Friday, security forces detained 43 people after anti-government activists used social media to call for street protests in the oil-producing Muslim state.

The Friday rally, inspired by small groups of young people, shouting anti-government rhetoric, was unrelated to the Musavat action but the party members said they supported it.

Activists, inspired by a wave of protests across North Africa and the Middle East, vowed to stage more demonstrations.

Six other people have been detained on various charges in the Caspian Sea nation since early February, when the "Great People's Day" campaign was launched on Facebook and Twitter.

The opposition activists sent out more than 35,000 invitations for people to support the anti-government group on Facebook and more than 3,000 clicked the "I'm attending" button to support the Friday action.

(Writing by Vladimir Soldatkin; editing by Matthew Jones)