BAKU -- Police have attacked hundreds of Azerbaijani taxi drivers protesting in Baku against new restrictions on the use of privately owned automobiles as taxis, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.
More than 100 police used batons outside the Transport Ministry against the demonstrating drivers who chanted for the resignation of Transport Minister Ziya Mammadov. Three taxi drivers were detained but immediately released due to pressure from the protesters.
The drivers say they currently pay an annual tax to the government from their profits, but the new requirements will only allow them to work as taxi drivers if they have a license.
Taxi driver Mammad Quliyev told RFE/RL that "Mammadov should resign. [He and other officials] are offending people. Some 60 percent of Azerbaijanis are driving taxis today because state jobs do not offer normal salaries. Each taxi driver has [an average of] four family members [he or she must provide for]."
Officials from the Transport and Interior ministries began launching raids on January 13 to prohibit drivers from using their personal cars to work as taxis without a license.
Since then, taxi drivers have held two protests in the Azerbaijani capital.
The owners of personal cars that are being used as taxis have to pay 150 manats ($191) for a five-year license and pay 30 manats for monthly technical and medical check ups.
Licensed taxi drivers are also now required to have a GPS navigation system and a fare meter in their cars so customers can see how much the ride will cost.
Another demand under the new regulations is that cars being used as taxis can't be more than five years old and have to be either white or violet, similar to the colors used by many London taxis.
The Transport Ministry began importing special "London taxis" last year for taxi drivers.
Namiq Hasanov, a Transport Ministry spokesman, told RFE/RL on January 16 that the new requirements are valid for all taxi drivers and the ministry will not change its decision. He advised drivers using private cars as taxis to rent or lease the London taxi cars in order to meet all of the new requirements.
Read more in Azeri here