Police in Azerbaijan arrest dozens of opposition activists

Reuters News
Posted: Oct 20, 2012 11:48 AM
Police in Azerbaijan arrest dozens of opposition activists

BAKU (Reuters) - Police in Azerbaijan arrested dozens of opposition activists who gathered in the capital Baku on Saturday demanding the president's resignation and the dissolution of parliament.

Protesters shouted: "Shame!", "Dissolve the parliament!" and "Resignation!", while uniformed and plain clothed police officers pushed some of them onto what looked like city buses.

Western governments and human rights groups accuse President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, of rigging elections and of clamping down on dissent, notably last year during a series of protests in Baku inspired by the Arab Spring.

The government insists that the oil-rich nation enjoys full freedom of speech and has a thriving opposition press.

"Azerbaijan should dissolve the current corrupted parliament, which does not reflect the interests of people," Natavan Salimzade, an opposition activist from the Popular Front, told Reuters before she was arrested by police.

"If Ilham Aliyev can't rule our country, he should resign ... We deserve a better leader and democratic election," she said.

The protest was triggered by a corruption scandal involving a former member of parliament from the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party. Gular Akhmedova, who has been questioned in an extortion case, was stripped of her immunity as an MP.

Azerbaijan, a mainly Muslim ex-Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, is an important energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Under pressure from the West, the government released several opposition bloggers and reporters earlier this year, but dozens of opposition activists and journalists are still in jail.

(Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Rosalind Russell)