BAKU Jan 26 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
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)