Police Search Azeri Opposition Newspaper

BAKU (Reuters)–An Azeri opposition newspaper accused President Haydar Aliyev’s government of intimidation on Thursday after its offices were searched–equipment confiscated and several journalists briefly detained.

Police officials on Wednesday searched the offices of the Chag daily newspaper–which is considered close to the opposition Popular Front party of ex-president Abulfaz Elchibey.

Editor Bakhaddin Khaziyev said police told him they had come to search for weapons. They left without finding any–he said–but confiscated documen’s and computer equipment–and detained him and two colleagues for several hours.

The Interior Ministry said the police had found no arms but discovered "documen’s of a criminal nature having special importance for the security of Azerbaijan and its citizens."

Khaziyev said the papers were ordinary analytical documen’s prepared by the Popular Front.

"It would be stupid to store weapons at a newspaper office. This is just the latest pretext for alleging the press and opposition are preparing a plot," he said.

Aliyev has a tight grip on power in Azerbaijan–and his government has alleged that several coups have been plotted against him since he returned to power in 1993. He also ran the country as its Communist chief in the 1970s and 1980s.

The police search followed the detention of two high-ranking Popular Front officials on Monday.

Front officials say the authorities want to stifle dissent in the former Soviet republic of eight million which is starting to develop its big reserves of Caspian Sea oil with the help of foreign firms which have pledged to invest billions of dollars.

Interior Ministry sources said Gabil Mamedov–a former deputy interior minister under Elchibey–had been detained and charged with illegal possession of firearms after he was found carrying a pistol and with a grenade in his car.

The source said Mamedov–an aide to Elchibey–was taken into custody together with Ulvi Khakimov–another Elchibey aide who was given a 10-day jail sentence.

Elchibey and all other leading opposition candidates say they will boycott a presidential election planned in September or October.

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