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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Azeri Police Beat and Detain Protesters

APAzeri police officers detaining a demonstrator at a protest in Baku on Friday. More than 10 people were detained.
BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Truncheon-wielding police beat protesters and detained more than 10 people Friday, breaking up a rally by Azeri opposition activists to protest rising utility and municipal rates.

About 20 people gathered outside a government building to protest the rate hikes, which were called for by the government after it stopped importing Russian natural gas after Moscow more than doubled its prices.

More than 100 police were called to the area after authorities refused to give the opposition coalition Azadliq permission to demonstrate.

After protesters reached an area between two groups of officers, police began beating them with truncheons and ripping posters from their hands. Police then rounded up a second, smaller group of demonstrators.

Isaq Avazoglu, a spokesman for one of the parties in the Azadliq coalition, said 30 activists were injured and 14 were detained. A Baku police official, Samir Seydli, said 10 to 15 people were detained and that some could face jail terms of several days.

Avaszoglu said that the 14 were released later Friday evening.

Azerbaijan's government sharply raised domestic prices for electricity, water and gas earlier this month after announcing it would not buy natural gas this year from Russia, balking at Moscow's demand that it pay $235 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas -- up from $110. Azerbaijan imported about 4.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas from Russia in 2006 to cover domestic consumption.

Another opposition party, Musavat, vowed to demonstrate Sunday and has received permission from the authorities to protest -- the first time this has happened since November 2005. Azadliq has not said whether it will take part.

President Ilham Aliyev has maintained a tight grip on Azerbaijan since succeeding his father in a 2003 presidential vote that observers said was flawed.