Get IOL's cool new iPad app...
Baku - Azerbaijan's police arrested the deputy head of the biggest opposition party on Tuesday over a protest last month where thousands demanded the resignation of a provincial leader.
Tofik Iagublu, deputy head of the Musavat Party, was arrested along with Ilgar Mamedov, leader of the rights group Republican Alternative (ReAl), on charges of organising and taking part in the unrest in the northern town of Ismailli, the Prosecutor General's office said.
Azerbaijan serves as a transit route for U.S. troops based in Afghanistan and for energy supplies to Europe. Critics of President Ilham Aliyev say that limits the West's eagerness to scrutinise Baku over human rights and democracy issues.
Allies of the two men said their arrests were politically motivated since neither of them had been in Ismailli during the riots on Jan. 24 and they only visited the town, about 200 km (125 miles) northwest of the capital Baku, the next day.
“These events were not organised. It was just an expression of people's discontent. That's why these arrests are absolutely illegal,” Arif Gajily of the Musavat Party said on Tuesday.
Mass protests are usually quashed quickly by police in Azerbaijan, a nation of 9 million people located between Iran and Russia. Police used teargas and a water cannon to disperse the Ismailli crowd.
Twelve others have already been arrested on the same charges after the Ismailli protest, a reflection of frustration at what some Azeris see as an overbearing government, corruption and a big divide between rich and poor.
The unrest began late on January 23 as a brawl involving a local hotel owner, but rapidly spiralled into a riot involving up to 3 000 people. Two motorcycles and a car were set on fire outside the home of the provincial governor's son. - Reuters