Azerbaijan police arrest youths at anti-government protest

BAKU Sat Jan 26, 2013 3:28pm GMT

BAKU Jan 26 (Reuters) - Police arrested about 40 activists demonstrating in Azerbaijan's capital on Saturday against President Ilham Aliyev's government and voicing support for residents of a northern town where protests were crushed this week.

More than 100 protesters gathered in central Baku, some chanting "Freedom!" and calling for the resignation of Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003 and has tolerated little dissent in the oil-producing former Soviet republic.

Police swiftly stopped the protest, forcing demonstrators out of a park and then arresting some in the street.

The protest was triggered by unrest in Ismailli, about 200 km (125 miles) northwest of Baku, where police used teargas and water cannon on Thursday to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding the resignation of a regional leader. Cars were torched and a hotel set ablaze in a night of rioting.

The protests and rioting in the small town reflect frustration at what some Azeris see as an overbearing government, corruption and a big divide between rich and poor in the mostly Muslim Caspian Sea nation of nine million.

Western governments and human rights groups accuse Aliyev of rigging elections and clamping down on dissent, and he is expected to win a new presidential term in October.

Azerbaijan produces oil and gas and is part of a route for energy supplies to Europe that bypasses Russia. (Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Louise Ireland and Steve Gutterman)