Police thwart Azerbaijan 'people's protest'
Azerbaijani police yesterday 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 were detained yesterday, including his son and the leader of the opposition Liberal-Democratic party Fuad Aliyev.
"The crackdown on young democracy activists shows that the authorities are scared, they fear mass protests," the leader of the opposition National Front party, Ali Kerimli, told AFP.
Baku police official Mamed Mikailov told reporters some 10 people were 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 yesterday morning at the protest's presumed venue near the 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 against opposition in the secular majority Muslim state that sparked international concern.
Gambar said Bakhtiyar Hajiyev, Sakhavat Soltanli, Jabar Savalan, Dayanat Babaev, and Rasadat Akhundov had been arrested under "ridiculous accusations of hooliganism," such as speaking loudly on the telephone in a public place.
The EU delegation in Baku yesterday said in a statement it was "concerned" over the "increasing number of reports of arrests of youth activists in the country."