Azerbaijan police crackdown on opposition protest

BAKU Mon Dec 10, 2012 2:20pm EST

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BAKU (Reuters) - Police in Azerbaijan detained around 30 activists on Monday who rallied in Baku to demand President Ilham Aliyev's resignation, the latest in a string of small protests opposition groups hope will ratchet up pressure on the government.

About 100 demonstrators took to the streets of Baku, shouting "Dissolve the corrupted parliament!", "Free elections!" and "The government should resign".

"Today is an International Human Rights Day and we hoped that we would be given a chance to give voice to our complaints, but it has not happened," Sevindzh Huseynova, a member of opposition Musavat Party, said. "We need a fair election."

Western governments and human rights groups accuse Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, of rigging elections and of clamping down on dissent. Protests are often swiftly broken up by security forces.

Under pressure from the West, the government released several opposition bloggers and reporters earlier this year, but dozens of activists and journalists are still in jail.

The Azeri government insists the oil-rich nation enjoys full freedom of speech and has a vibrant opposition press.

Inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, Azerbaijan's beleaguered opposition has staged a series of small protests in the wake of bigger demonstrations earlier this year.

Public Chamber, an umbrella movement which unites major opposition parties, called on Monday for the dissolution of parliament, the release of political prisoners and the participation of opposition parties in politics.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, is an important energy supplier to Europe and a transit route for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Lada Evgrashina; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Sophie Hares)

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