BAKU: Thousands of Azerbaijani opposition supporters held a rare authorised rally yesterday to demand a free-and-fair presidential election scheduled for October in the tightly controlled ex-Soviet state.
Police detained several activists as some 3,000 supporters of Azerbaijan’s main opposition coalition, the National Council of Democratic Forces, waved banners and chanted support for Oscar-winning screenwriter Rustam Ibragimbekov’s bid to unseat strongman president Ilham Aliyev.
“Now that the opposition has united into the National Council in order to take on the authoritarian Aliyev regime, this regime will be swept into history,” said Isa Gambar, head of opposition group Musavat.
“We are going to support the single candidacy of Rustam Ibragimbekov until the end.”
Any display of public discontent or political dissent usually meets a tough government response in the oil-rich nation, whose presidential vote is scheduled for October 9.
Sunday’s rally in the capital Baku was sanctioned by the mayor’s office but only for an obscure location about 10 kilometres from the city centre, and police confiscated banners criticising Aliyev ahead of the event. Aliyev has faced repeated criticism over his human-rights record.