Azerbaijani protesters demanding free elections were beaten back Saturday by police, who arrested dozens as they broke up a banned rally in the oil-rich former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea four days before the inauguration of a new pipeline.
Officials had forbidden the opposition to protest, citing security concerns four days before the visit of foreign leaders who will attend a ceremony marking the opening of Azerbaijan's portion of the U.S.-backed Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline.
The violence broke out as groups of protesters tried to defy the ban and make their way to a central square in the capital, Baku, shouting "Freedom!" and "Free elections!"
Helmeted police with riot shields chased protesters and lashed out at them with truncheons, dispersing the rally after about two hours.
Human rights activist Saida Godzhamanly said more than 100 people were detained.
The police said 45 people were detained for disorder and refusing to obey police.
"Our action succeeded," said opposition Musavat [Equality] party leader Isa Gambar. "Today was a demonstration of our will and the will of the people for democratic changes in the country."
Based in London, we are an informal group dedicated to supporting democracy and human rights throughout
the former Soviet Union. Our aims are:
Informing the public about issues in this area that receive little coverage in the Western media.
Staging peaceful demonstrations and letter-writing campaigns in support of specific causes.
Supporting and publicising nonviolent pro-democracy groups throughout the region.
Encouraging European and American involvement.
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