Thousands demand fresh elections in Azerbaijan
"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 protest in this oil-rich Caucasus state.
The opposition protests followed reports of widespread vote fraud in Sunday elections in ex-Soviet Azerbaijan that were won overwhelmingly by the party of President Ilham Aliyev.
Opposition leaders linked arms at the head of the march, wearing orange ties and headscarves in imitation of Ukrainian demonstrators last year who toppled president Leonid Kuchma in the so-called "orange revolution."
Several hundred riot police officers in helmets and body armour clutched shields and truncheons, blocking off other access points as demonstrators filed into the square, located north of central Baku.
Protesters at the rally chanted "Resign!" and "Azadliq!" (Freedom!), the name of the country's largest opposition bloc that has demanded the authorities call a re-vote or face regime change.
"I am protesting against these unjust elections since the state doesn't want democracy in Azerbaijan," said Vusal Akhadzade, 21.
Another protester, 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 protestors wearing bandanas held up orange placards saying: "Mister Bush, Don't Lose a Friendly Muslim Country!" and "Stop Trading Democracy for Oil!"
Wednesday's rally was called by the Azadliq and YES opposition blocs and is the first of several planned demonstrations that analysts see as a test of strength with Azerbaijan's hardline government.
Unsanctioned opposition rallies ahead of Sunday's vote had been violently broken up by police and there are fears demonstrations could end in violent scuffles like those that followed Aliyev's election in 2003.
The Victory Square protest rally has been allowed to go ahead but only within a strict time limit and some opposition activists say they will defy police by staying beyond the 1400 GMT schduled close of the demonstration.
Copyright (c) 2005 Agence France-Presse
Received by NewsEdge Insight: 11/09/2005 08:51:43
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