October 19, 2019 / 2:44 PM / 25 days ago

Azeri police detain scores of protesters, including opposition party leader

Head of the Popular Front Party of Azerbaijan Ali Karimli and his supporters hold an unauthorized rally to demand the freedom of assembly in Baku, Azerbaijan October 19, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Karimov

BAKU (Reuters) - Police in Azerbaijan on Saturday detained scores of protesters, including the leader of the main opposition Popular Front, at the start of a planned rally against low salaries, corruption and a lack of democracy in the energy-rich ex-Soviet state.

The protesters have a wide range of demands, including higher salaries for state employees and fair and independent elections in a country long accused by human rights groups and Western governments of a lack of transparency.

Popular Front leader Ali Kerimli told reporters before his own detention that some 50 people, mostly organisers of Saturday’s unauthorised rally, had already been detained earlier in the week.

“We demand our constitutional rights and freedoms to be protected,” Kerimli said. “We are not afraid of this government and we will fight till the end.”

Police detained Kerimli soon after he began walking to the venue of the protest rally in central Baku. More than 80 other protesters were detained after him, a Reuters witness at the scene said.

The deputy head of the Baku police, Sakhlab Bagirov, confirmed to Reuters that some people had been detained, but declined to provide a number.

Police also cordoned off several streets in central Baku, a couple of metro stations were temporarily shut and there were problems with internet connection.

Azerbaijan has been governed by President Ilham Aliyev since 2003 when he succeeded his late father.

Western nations have courted Azerbaijan because of its role as an alternative to Russia in supplying oil and gas to Europe, but various European bodies and rights groups have accused Aliyev of muzzling dissent and jailing opponents, charges Baku denies.

Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; writing by Polina Devitt and Margarita Antidze; editing by Gareth Jones

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