Over a thousand supporters of the opposition staged a series of rallies in cities across Azerbaijan on Saturday to call for free elections in the former Soviet republic.
Brandishing orange flags recalling the "orange revolution" that toppled an entrenched pro-Moscow government in Ukraine last year, around 150 people rallied in Azerbaijan's second largest city Ganja, chanting "Free Elections!"
The authorities in the oil-rich Caspian state have only recently allowed the opposition to hold demonstrations, relaxing a crackdown on opposition rallies, but outside of the capital Baku gatherings have until now been rare.
Azadliq (Freedom), a block of three of Azerbaijan's largest opposition parties, plans to field some 125 candidates in parliamentary elections scheduled for November 6.
Azadliq told AFP in Baku that opposition supporters had demonstrated in four towns at venues approved by the authorities, with over 1000 people attending a rally in southeastern Saatly.
A demonstration organized by the Liberal Party of Azerbaijan gathered 500 supporters in Baku.
In Ganja however, opposition leaders complained that police had restricted access to a rally, a charge local police officials denied.
Half a dozen protestors were arrested but later released when they tried to demonstrate at unapproved sites in two other Azeri towns, according to Arif Gadzhily, deputy head of Azadliq's Musavat party.
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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