Azerbaijani Police Quash Rally In Capital
By Liz Fuller
Azerbaijan -- Police violence_Baku 21/5/05
21 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Riot police armed with shields
and batons intervened on 21 May to prevent scores of
would-be participants from reaching the venue for a
planned opposition rally and march in Baku, RFE/RL's
Azerbaijani Service reported.
Authorities had rejected the organizers' request for
permission to hold the demonstration, arguing that the
timing was inappropriate in light of foreign
dignitaries' planned visits four days from now.
The rally's organizers intended to demand amendments
to Azerbaijan's election laws to prevent the
authorities falsifying the election outcome, the
creation of an independent public broadcaster, and the
prosecution of the killer of independent journalist
Elmar Guseinov, who was shot dead outside his
apartment in early March.
Opposition sources claimed today that protesters put
up no resistance to police and said they would
organize more rallies in the coming months.
The rally was scheduled to take place between 4 p.m.
and 6 p.m. local time at the 28 May metro station.
Groups of a few dozen demonstrators managed to
assemble in at least two places, some of them chanting
Initial reports suggested that police detained between
30 and 100 people, including 10 women. Authorities
later told RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service that they had
detained 45 people.
Mehman Javadoglu of the opposition Musavat Party told
RFE/RL that 15 activists from the opposition bloc
Bizim Azerbaijan (Our Azerbaijan), which also helped
organize the demonstration, were among those detained.
He claimed that many were beaten up by the police,
although that could not be independently confirmed.
City police chief Yashar Aliyev, speaking at an
afternoon news conference, said some 500 people had
tried to demonstrate. Two policemen were wounded,
Aliyev said. The police chief denied that force was
used against demonstrators.
Police also earlier stormed the headquarters in Baku
of the progressive wing of the Azerbaijan Popular
Front Party (AHCP) -- one of the co-organizers of the
planned rally -- and battered party Deputy Chairman
The rally was called by the Ugur bloc of three
prominent opposition parties, which comprises the AHCP
progressive wing, the Musavat party, and the
Democratic Party of Azerbaijan. The bloc was formed
earlier this year to participate in the parliamentary
elections due in November.
The event was the first mass action to be held in
Azerbaijan since violent clashes between police and
opposition supporters following the disputed
presidential election in October 2003.
The opposition has applied on several occasions since
then for permission to hold a mass rally, but
authorities have always refused.
Azerbaijan -- Police raid Popular Front HQ 21/5/05
Authorities raid the opposition Popular Front Party's
Baku municipal officials earlier this week rejected
the organizers' request for permission to hold today's
rally, arguing that it was inexpedient to hold such a
mass action on the eve of the arrival in Baku of
several foreign heads of state who will attend the
official inauguration on 25 May of the
Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan export pipeline for Caspian oil.
City Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov summoned the rally's
organizers on 20 May and tried to persuade them to
call off the gathering, promising that all
restrictions on holding rallies and demonstrations
would be lifted after the election campaign got under
way on 15 June. But the organizers rejected his
request, stressing their constitutionally guaranteed
right to organize such gatherings. Abutalibov then
warned them that if they nonetheless tried to hold the
rally, the authorities would resort to all necessary
measures to prevent it.
Since 18 May, police have rounded up several dozen
known opposition activists, including Razi Nurullaev,
head of the youth organization Yokh! (No!), and Ruslan
Bashirli, head of the youth organization Yeni Fikir.
Following today's incidents, the U.S. Embassy in Baku
accused authorities of abusing Azerbaijani citizens'
right to free association, and it called on the
Azerbaijani government to respect its citizens'
constitutional rights. The embassy said it will
continue to monitor the situation in the country.
The U.S. Embassy had issued a statement the day before
the planned rally expressing concern at the opposition
arrests and at the municipal authorities' refusal to
grant permission for the event. The statement pointed
out, as did a similar statement issued on 19 May by
the OSCE office in Baku, that Azerbaijani President
Ilham Aliyev issued a decree last week on measures to
ensure that the November parliamentary ballot is free,
fair, and democratic. That decree specifically
instructed city officials across Azerbaijan to permit
Ali Kerimli, chairman of the AHCP progressive wing,
told the website day.az that "today's events show that
the authorities are not ready to hold democratic
elections but want to usurp power again." He said the
demonstrators offered no resistance to police, and
that the opposition plans to hold further such
rallies. The next is scheduled for 4 June.