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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

1,500 Azeris Take to Streets in Anger

Carrying the body of a dead compatriot, 1,500 angry Azeris thronged a central Moscow street Thursday to protest a brutal attack at the Luzhniki market that they say had police assistance.

Asef Nagiyev, 25, was stabbed at the huge crowded market at 9:45 a.m. in a brawl between local Azeri vendors and an unidentified group of assailants. Police, who denied any role in the attack, detained five suspects and said they appeared to be members of an organized crime group.

An Azeri trader said on NTV television that the brawl was started by about six Russians in black uniforms. "They came and started fighting, and then our people fought them off," he said.

Once repelled, the assailants "went up to policemen and used their walkie-talkies to call somewhere," said the trader, who didn't identify himself.

The attackers appeared to have called in reinforcements, he said, and as many as 20 men arrived 15 minutes later. One of them stabbed Nagiyev in the abdomen in what seemed an indiscriminate attack.

"The first person they came across, a porter who was carrying a box for a client, they stabbed with a knife," the trader said. "They killed him and that was it."

Farkhad Agamaliyev, an Azerbaijani Embassy spokesman, said the attackers were "skinheads" trying to intimidate the Azeris and drive them out of Russia. He linked the attack to the local Nazis' reported promise to kill one non-Aryan every day after Adolph Hitler's birthday on April 20.

A long-time Luzhniki vendor, however, said in a telephone interview Thursday night that the attackers were local mafiosi, angered by the Azeris' refusal to pay the "fee" for trading at the city's largest market.

"The guy was innocent, but they just wanted to show they are serious," said the vendor, who agreed to have only his first name, Artur, printed.

Police intervened in the brawl only after Nagiyev was killed, and detained five suspects, who remained in custody Thursday night. "They seem to belong to organized crime" and are "definitely are not" Nazis, said Vladimir Shchadin, duty officer of the 135th precinct.

The officer called the allegations of police helping the attackers "complete nonsense."

These suspicions, though, seemed plausible enough to the hundreds of vendors who gathered around Nagiyev's body in the market. Azeris and other people from the Caucasus are often harassed by city police.

Their anger spilled out when an ambulance arrived to take the corpse to a city clinic for an autopsy. They rocked the ambulance and smashed its windows, forcing the paramedics to give them the body.

Moslem traditions disapprove of performing surgery on a body and require that people be buried on the same day they die, before sunset.

The Azeris placed Nagiyev's body in a coffin and headed out onto nearby Komsomolsky Prospekt, disrupting traffic along the busy street.

The crowd of 1,500 decided to march toward the White House, the main government building, but was blocked by Interior Ministry riot police at around 3 p.m.

The Azeri protesters dispersed quickly, leaving the coffin discarded on the pavement. No one was hurt, police said.

An unnamed official from the prosecutor's office, interviewed by NTV at the scene, said the march showed no signs of mass disorder.

"It is the anger of people," the official said. "They wanted to carry out some kind of custom, by accompanying the body.

"But we live by Russian laws in Russia, and therefore we do what we have to do."

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov said there was no reason to fear further violence, but city police chief Nikolai Kulikov promised to beef up street patrols over the Victory Day holidays.

Both Luzhkov and Kulikov insisted that both the suspected attackers and those who organized the unsanctioned rally should be punished.

Kulikov stressed that "one cannot link the killing to political motives," but the Azerbaijan's embassy said it plans to file an official protest with both city and federal authorities.