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Azerbaijani Police Clash With Activists After Baku Rally
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Police have clashed with protesters in the Azerbaijani capital, Baku, after an antigovernment rally.

The police intervention came after hundreds of demonstrators held a rally on September 17 protesting an upcoming referendum that would give Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev greater powers and a longer term in office.

Several journalists were also detained by police during the clashes, including at least two freelancers working for RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service.

One RFE/RL journalist was taken from the scene of the protest in a bus with some 30 detainees.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The protest, which was sanctioned by the government, was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces, an umbrella organization uniting part of Azerbaijan's opposition forces.

WATCH: Footage Of The Baku Protest (natural sound)

Demonstrators oppose the holding of a September 26 referendum in the tightly controlled South Caucasus country that is expected to strengthen the authority of Aliyev, extend the length of presidential terms, and drop the minimum age for future presidential candidates.

Some slogans at the rally included "No to monarchy, end to robbery!" and "Where is the $140 billion oil money?"

Activists have warned that Azerbaijan’s government has stepped up the repression of journalists, civil society activists, and human rights workers ahead of the referendum, and urged the West to do more to confront Baku.

The oil-rich South Caucasus nation has faced growing social and economic problems stemming from falling world oil prices in recent years.

An investigative journalist and former political prisoner in Azerbaijan says repression of journalists and opposition activists in Azerbaijan is increasing in the country.

RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, who spent 17 months in prison before her release in May, spoke at a U.S. congressional hearing in Washington on September 16 about the harsh conditions faced by journalists who report on corruption.

The hearing, Azerbaijan: Do Human Rights Matter? was organized by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission and held ahead of a September 26 constitutional referendum that will ask voters to strengthen the president's authority and extend his term in office.

International rights watchdogs have widely criticized the referendum.

Ismayilova, who addressed the hearing by video conference from her home in Baku as she is barred from leaving the country, said there are 138 political prisoners in Azerbaijani prisons.

She said pro-Western journalists, bloggers, politicians, and civil activists have faced repression in Azerbaijan under the rule of President Ilham Aliyev.

Ismayilova, who was arrested on charges widely believed to be in retaliation for her reports on corruption among Aliyev's family and friends, added that "Russian media has its bureaus in Baku, while RFE/RL's Baku bureau is closed and its equipment has been confiscated illegally."

Richard Kauzlarich, who served as U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan in the 1990s, declared at the hearing that "quiet diplomacy has not worked” as a means of persuading the government to tolerate greater freedoms.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.


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