BAKU (Australian/Baku Today/RFE/RL)–A NATO conference in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan was disrupted on Tuesday when hardline nationalists tried to storm the hotel where the meeting was taking place.
Police arrested several members from the Karabagh Liberation Organization (KLO)–including chairman Akif Naghi–who were protesting the presence of two Armenian servicemen at the conference.
The KLO warned last week it would take radical action to stop the entry [into Baku] of Armenian officers.
The conference is being held to prepare officers for a training exercise of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization–called "Cooperative Best Effort," which is due to take place in Azerbaijan later this year.
When police prevented the approximately 100 KLO protesters from assembling outside the venue of the meeting–a hotel in the Azeri capital–Baku–about 30 demonstrators broke through a police cordon and smashed the glass door of the conference hall–witnesses at the scene told AFP.
Hotel security guards prevented them from getting into the conference hall; they were later detained by police. The meeting was suspended for five minutes as a result of the disturbance.
The protesters had earlier marched through Baku carrying placards with the slogans: "Armenia’s Out!" and "The Armenian criminals have the blood of our people on their hands."
"We will continue this protest action all day," said Akif Nagi–who led the demonstration. "Our aim is to force the Armenia’s to leave the conference."
Delegates from 24 NATO member states and partner countries–including the two Armenian officers are attending the conference.
Armenia’s Defense Ministry warned it may recall its representatives before the end of the conference. Spokesman Colonel Seyran Shahsuvarian–said in a statement that Azeri security agencies and the US embassy in Baku are taking "additional security measures."
"Consultations are currently going on between Armenian representatives–exercise organizers and Azerbaijani defense ministry officials regarding the further work of the planning conference," Shahsuvarian said. "The Armenian side will continue its participation in the conference if the Azerbaijani authorities assume full responsibility for ensuring the security of the Armenian officers."
Nagi has said that military and other government officials from Armenia must not be allowed to set foot on Azerbaijani soil because "they represent an occupying country that has infringed on Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity." But in a statement to the local media on Monday–Deputy Foreign Minister Araz Azimov argued that under the PfP rules the Azerbaijani government could not block their participation in the conference. "Azerbaijan’s relations with NATO must not be hostage to our problems with Armenia," Azimov said.