Azeri Protesters Urge Alyiev to Step Down

BAKU (Reuters)–About 10,000 opponents of Azeri President Haydar Aliyev marched through the streets of the capital Baku on Sunday–demanding the 75-year old leader release detained political detractors and resign from office.

Hundreds of riot troops carrying plastic shields surrounded a small square where opposition political parties gathered–and lined every step of the route of the protesters’ march.

But the troops made no move to stop the protesters–unlike last weekend when their attempts to break up a similar anti-government rally–which had not been sanctioned by authorities–turned violent.

The protest was called by about a dozen political parties who are boycotting the October 11 presidential election in the Caspian Sea oil state of eight million people.

They say Aliyev’s control over the country’s Central Elections Commission will allow him to commit fraud–if necessary–to stay in power.

Given the boycott–Aliyev is virtually assured of victory.

"We are here to teach Haydar Aliyev a lesson in democracy," said former President Abulfaz Elchibey–leader of the Democratic Congress opposition umbrella group.

Marchers–waving red–green–and blue Azeri flags and cheering wildly–shouted "Istefa!" (Resign!) and "Azadlig" (Freedom) throughout the two-hour demonstration under hot sunshine.

They concluded by making a seven-point list of deman’s including the release of at least 38 opposition activists–still being held following the violence last weekend–in which 100 protesters and 20 policemen were hurt.

Among the detainees is former prime minister Panakh Huseinov.

"We don’t want freedom in a jail cell," read one banner.

"I’m just a taxi driver–not a political person," said one of the marchers.

"But Aliyev has failed to keep a single promise. The Armenia’s still have our land–there are no jobs–and a family can barely feed itself even if every member earns a pay check," he said.

The charged atmosphere was in stark contrast to a low-key pro-Aliyev meeting on Saturday–in which many of the thousands in attendance were government employees ordered to take part and bussed in for the occasion.

Many of those left the Soviet-style rally even before the president began to speak.

During his remarks Aliyev warned that if it became impossible to resolve the Karabakh conflict by peaceful means–then "we will use our own powers to restore our territorial integrity."

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