Azerbaijan police crack down on opposition protest

BAKU Sat Nov 17, 2012 6:56pm IST

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BAKU Nov 17 (Reuters) - Police in Azerbaijan arrested around 30 opposition activists who tried to stage a protest in the capital Baku on Saturday to demand the president's resignation and dissolution of parliament.

Police officers in helmets and wielding truncheons pushed some of the demonstrators on to city buses.

Azerbaijan's weak opposition has been trying to drum up support by staging regular protests since a series of bigger demonstrations in Baku last year which were inspired by the Arab Spring.

Each protest has been swiftly broken up by security forces.

Around 100 people, called to join Saturday's protest via Facebook, took to the streets, shouting "Dissolve the parliament!" and "The president should resign". About 30 of them were arrested, witnesses said.

Some journalists at the scene were beaten by police when they tried to take photographs of the arrests.

"Some policemen beat me, although they knew and saw that I was a journalist," Faraim Ibragimogly, a correspondent for the opposition Yeni Musavat newspaper, told Reuters. He was wearing a blue flak jacket with the word "Press" on it.

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.

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

Azerbaijan, a former 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 activists and journalists are still in jail. (Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Rosalind Russell)

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