Azeri Police Arrest Two Opposition Leaders

BAKU (Reuters) – Police in Azerbaijan have arrested two opposition leaders as part of a crackdown on those who joined violent protests over the contested election victory of Ilham Aliyev–a local television channel reported on Sunday.

Ilham–who takes over as president from his father–Haydar Aliyev–to create the first political dynasty of the former Soviet world–has accused the opposition of stirring up Thursday’s violence in the oil- and gas-rich state on the shores of the Caspian Sea.

Police have rounded up some 200 opposition supporters–including seven opposition leaders–after the clashes between angry demonstrators and truncheon-wielding police that left two people dead and dozens wounded.

The independent ANS television channel said the two opposition leaders most recently arrested were the deputy chairman of the main opposition Musavat Party–Ibrahim Ibrahimli–and the chairman of the People’s Party–Panah Huseynov.

Musavat’s leader–Isa Gambar–came second in the presidential poll.

Ilham blamed the opposition for Thursday’s violence and vowed to clamp down on protests.

"I think that violence will never return to the Azeri society,” Ilham said in an interview shown on Russia’s RTR television channel.

"What happened showed once more the true colors of the opposition–which is trying to present itself as a democratic one. But no one in Azerbaijan believes in its democracy,” he said.

"Vandalism–chaos–today this scenario does not work.

Azerbaijan has come into its own as a state–a state which can protect itself both from foreign threats and from domestic provocateurs.”

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe–a democracy watchdog–has said Wednesday’s election failed to meet international standards and rights groups have accused police of harassing opposition supporters and using excessive force.

But Azerbaijan’s foreign allies and investors–as well as many ordinary Azeris–back Ilham as the guarantor of stability in a country racked by political turmoil and bloodshed when the opposition was last in power a decade ago–analysts say.

On Saturday–the wife of opposition Democratic Party leader Serdar Calaloglu said armed men wearing masks kicked down the door of his apartment and dragged him away.

Ilham said he had spoken about the election with his father–the dominant force in Azerbaijan for the last three decades–who is now 80 and being treated at a US clinic for heart and kidney trouble.

"He was very satisfied,” Ilham said. "He is feeling well–the treatment is going on successfully. Of course–it is slower than we would like it to be.”

"We hope he will be back before inauguration,” he said.

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