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Azerbaijan: Government Authorized Opposition Protest On Its Doorstep, But Denied Stadium

Azerbaijan: Government Authorized Opposition Protest On Its Doorstep, But Denied Stadium
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Denied permission to rally at a downtown stadium, the Azerbaijani opposition received it to stage an October 8 protest in one of Baku’s most sensitive locations – directly in front of city hall, an eight-minute walk north from Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev’s offices.

Locations well outside the center of the Azerbaijani capital are usually what the city government offers Azerbaijani opposition members for sanctioned protests. The Tuesday demonstration, in fact, focused on a city decision to relegate another protest to Lokbatan, a small town on the outskirts of Baku, rather than to the downtown stadium of Mahsul.

The city’s reasons for breaking with its usual practice and authorizing the protest in downtown Baku were not clear.

Despite official approval for the gathering, detentions of demonstrators began roughly an hour before the protest’s start, RFE/RL reported. Police claimed that protesters had surpassed an imposed cap of 50 people and were disrupting public transportation.

Some 30 people were estimated to have been detained. Two members of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, a key component of the National Council of Democratic Forces, the coalition of opposition parties that organized the protest, were sentenced to 15 days in prison for allegedly defying police officers.

Police reportedly prevented journalists from working at the scene, where no Internet connection was not functioning.

In October 9 Facebook remarks, senior presidential advisor Ali Hasanov asserted that the scuffles between police and demonstrators had only demonstrated “the big necessity to reform the opposition.” He underlined the government’s respect for freedom of assembly.

In turn, Elman Mamedov, a parliamentary deputy for the ruling Yeni Azerbaycan Party, scoffed that the disorder showed that “these people” -- in particular, the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan, a decades-long target of government accusations -- intended “to stage an uprising in the city center.”

Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan leader Ali Karimli countered on Facebook that the protest “proved that [freedom of assembly] is not only the demand of the opposition, but also the people. And the people are able to get what they want.”

A follow-up protest is planned for October 19. Whether or not the city government will again provide a doorstep location is not known.

With reporting from RFE/RL’s Azerbaijani Service, Kavkazky Uzel, RIA Novosti, Trend, Turan