US Regrets Azerbaijan Crackdown on Protest Rally

WASHINGTON(AFP)–The United States expressed regret Monday over a move by police in Azerbaijan to break up a banned anti-government rally over the weekend–arresting and beating dozens of protestors.

"We regret that Azerbaijan’s government refused a request by the opposition to hold a peaceful rally," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

"It’s also regrettable that the police used force to disband small groups of protesters and detain participants in an unsanctioned rally."

Authorities in the capital Baku refused to allow the rally Saturday on the grounds it fell too close to opening ceremonies for the $4 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline (BTC).

No figure was available for the number of injured in the crackdown–but an AFP reporter saw police flogging several protestors with rubber batons–knocking at least one man unconscious and beating a local reporter.

Boucher said the government’s handling of the rally and its decision to detain protesters violated the spirit of President Ilham Aliyev’s decree last month that affirmed the constitutional right to peaceful assembly.

"We again call on the government of Azerbaijan to honor the right of its people to assemble peacefully and freely and to ensure that those detained during the rally are afforded due process immediately," he said.

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