BAKU(AFP/AFX)–The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe expressed "deep concern" Wednesday over tactics used by the government in Azerbaijan against its opponents in the run-up to key legislative elections.
"The increasing number of violent incidents–the use of excessive and unjustified force against demonstrators–as well as questionable detentions and mass arrests are a major concern for us," OSCE’s ambassador to Baku Maurizio Pavesi–said in a written statement.
Police have violently broken-up a number of said opposition protests in the weeks leading up to the November 6 parliamentary elections that are seen as a test of stability and democracy in the Caucasus republic.
Scores of people have been injured in the incidents over the past few weeks and the OSCE said as many as 86 opposition activists were arrested this week alone.
Pavesi called on the government to "immediately justify" security force operations "in order to avoid further aggravation of the already tense political atmosphere in Azerbaijan."
The capital Baku was tense earlier this week amid expectations that fugitive opposition leader Rasul Guliyev would return to Azerbaijan from self-imposed exile and face arrest on what he says are politically motivated embezzlement charges.
Instead–Guliyev was arrested during a stopover in Ukraine–which has an extradition treaty with Azerbaijan–dealing a heavy blow to the embattled opposition bloc Azadliq (Freedom).
But Guliyev was released Thursday and vowed to return home ahead of key parliamentary elections next month despite a pledge by Baku authorities to arrest him as soon as he sets foot in the country.
"Naturally I will return to Azerbaijan before the elections," Guliyev said.
Guliyev was speaking at the Simferopol airport–where he was detained on Monday by Ukrainian police who said they were acting on a request by the government of Azerbaijan.
A local judge freed Guliyev–who said he intended to spend a week at an undisclosed location in Europe before returning to Azerbaijan–where groups opposed to the government have rallied behind him as an opponent to President Ilham Aliyev.