Inspired by revolutions in the Arab world — hundreds of people gathered at Fountain Square in central Baku on Saturday to hold protests against the government of President Ilham Aliyev, our correspondent reported.
Protesters chanted slogans and called for the resignation of government officials. Security officers used force to disperse the crowd of demonstrators and detained dozens of protesters.
Opposition groups accuse the government of jailing opponents and stifling the media. They also believe that certain Western powers are guilty of remaining silent with regards to rights abuse in the oil-rich country.
The anti-religion agenda has also caused uproar in the predominantly Muslim nation. Baku also bans Azeris from openly observing their religious rites.
Protesters want to the government to respect religious values and prevent Azerbaijan from falling into a crisis.
Muslim communities in Azerbaijan blame the growing non-democratic secularism in the country on Tel Aviv and accuse Israel of being behind anti-Islamic programs.
Shia Muslims make up a vast majority of the population in Azerbaijan.
Earlier security forces detained 43 people on Friday after anti-government activists used social media to call for street protests in the oil-producing Muslim state, inspired by the Arab uprisings.
Azerbaijan, an energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, has been ruled by one family for nearly two decades since Soviet veteran Heydar Aliyev came to power in 1993. He was succeeded by his son Ilham in 2003.
“Today 43 people were arrested, 23 of which were released after questioning,” the Interior Ministry said in a statement, adding that others faced charges of violating public order and defying police.
A Reuters reporter saw riot troops and plainclothes police seize young activists one by one and push them into buses near a major university in the center of Baku, capital of the authoritarian former Soviet republic.
One of the opposition activists, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters by telephone that some of the activists were wearing red t-shirts, the main color of their protest, which involved small groups of young people shouting anti-government rhetoric.
Activists inspired by the overthrow of autocrats in Tunisia and Egypt by pro-democracy protests vowed to stage more demonstrations as they were being taken away by police outside Baku’s Oil Academy.
“We will try to hold other protests in the future,” one young man told reporters before police bundled him into a bus.
The European Union swiftly condemned the detentions.
The EU delegation in Baku said in a statement it “encouraged Azerbaijan to maintain an open dialogue with members of civil society organisations expressing views and opinions in a peaceful manner… (and) to ensure due process in all recent cases of arrest of youth activists.”
The opposition activist said he and others might hold more protests but could not say when.
Six other activists have been detained on various charges in the Caspian Sea nation since early February, when the “Great People’s Day” campaign was launched on Facebook and Twitter