Thousands call on Azerbaijan govt to resign

A crowd of at least 15 000 Azerbaijanis rallying on Baku’s Victory Square on Wednesday under a forest of orange flags called on the government to resign after reported vote fraud in weekend elections.

“We are protesting the total fraud of the election and the refusal to give people a chance to choose,” said Gabil Guseinle, deputy leader of the Musavat opposition party, at the demonstration that took place under heavy police presence.

The protesters demand “the resignation of the entire government”, Guseinle said as they chanted “Resign!” and “Azadliq [freedom]!”.

Azadliq, the country’s largest opposition force, has demanded authorities order a re-vote or face regime change in what analysts see as a key political test in this oil-rich Caucasus state located between Russia, Iran and Turkey.

“If the authorities don’t respect the people’s will ... we will demand the complete resignation of the government,” Sardar Jalaloglu, deputy head of the Democratic Party, told the crowd from a podium.

Along with other opposition leaders, Jalaloglu waved a carnation—the symbol of the Azadliq coalition—and called on protesters to stay on the streets for days during the “difficult battle” ahead.

“The Azerbaijani people want freedom. Support us,” said Jalaloglu, calling for backing from United States President George Bush and European states.

The opposition rally followed reports from European observers of widespread vote fraud in Sunday elections that were won overwhelmingly by the party of President Ilham Aliyev.

Opposition leaders wore orange ties and headscarves in imitation of Ukrainian demonstrators who blocked president Leonid Kuchma from installing his hand-picked successor in the so-called “Orange Revolution” last year.

Several hundred riot police officers in helmets and body armour clutched shields and truncheons, blocking off other access points to the square, located north of central Baku.

“I am protesting against these unjust elections since the state doesn’t want democracy in Azerbaijan,” said Vusal Akhadzade (21), one of protesters in the boisterous but good-natured crowd of all ages.

Another demonstrator, 23-year-old Faik, a doctor, said: “We want this regime to go ...
They have the force, army and money and we have the voices.”

A group of young protesters wearing bandanas held up orange placards saying: “Mister Bush, don’t lose a friendly Muslim country!” and “Stop trading democracy for oil!”.

Unsanctioned opposition rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote have been broken up by police and there are fears the demonstration could end in violent scuffles like those that followed Aliyev’s election in 2003.

The Victory Square protest was allowed to go ahead by authorities but only within a strict time limit, and opposition activists said they would defy police by staying beyond the 2pm GMT scheduled close of the demonstration.—Sapa-AFP

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