Police thwart Azerbaijan 'people's protest'

AFP , Friday 11 Mar 2011

Azerbaijani activists attempting to follow in suite of the Arab revolts were hindered by police

Police detain an opposition activist in Baku 11 March 2011. (Reuters)

Azerbaijani police Friday arrested activists seeking to hold a protest in Baku, thwarting the first attempt by the opposition in the tightly-controlled state to latch on to the Arab revolts.

The opposition said dozens of activists had been arrested while police said 10 were detained. Footage posted on the Internet showed several young people being firmly led away by the police into a waiting van.

Activists had called for the March 11 "Great People's Day in Azerbaijan" protest against the authorities led by President Ilham Aliyev -- who succeeded his father Heydar in 2003 -- through the Facebook website.

The leader of the opposition Musavat party, Isa Gambar, told AFP that dozens of activists have been detained Friday, including his son and the leader of the opposition Liberal-Democratic party Fuad Aliyev.

Baku police official Mamed Mikailov told reporters some 10 people have been detained.

"Police had foiled an attempt to hold an unsanctioned protest outside the May 28 metro station and the train station (in Baku)," he said.

Police had been massing forces Friday morning at the protest's presumed venue near Oil Academy in central Baku and other locations throughout the city, an AFP correspondent at the scene reported.

The authorities had arrested at least five activists ahead of the planned protest in a crackdown that sparked international concern.

The EU delegation in Baku on Friday said in a statement it was "concerned" over the "increasing number of reports of arrests of youth activists in the country."

The US ambassador to the former Soviet republic, Matthew Bryza, said he would "continue to monitor closely" the cases.

The group's page on Facebook, the online social networking site used extensively in the revolt that toppled Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, says "we are on the road of democracy and intend to follow this road till the end."

"By clicking 'I am attending' you are simply showing your support for the Azerbaijani cause online."

Energy-rich Azerbaijan has been courted by foreign governments as a source of oil and gas supplies, but critics have accused the West of tempering criticism of rights abuses in order to safeguard their economic interests in the Caspian Sea state.

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