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Azerbaijani Riot Police Disperse Would-Be Protesters

9 October 2005 -- Riot police dispersed opposition protesters trying to mount a rally in Azerbaijan's capital today in defiance of a ban, with some injuries reported among would-be demonstrators.

An electoral bloc uniting three main opposition parties had announced that it planned to defy a ban on demonstrations in six squares of the capital. Riot police with truncheons pushed back dozens of protesters as they tried to make their way down a narrow street toward one of the squares where rallies were planned.

One opposition candidate, Khalig Bahadur, claimed to have been beaten. Norway's ambassador to Baku, Steiner Gil, accused police of having used "excessive force and exaggerated the threat."

Authorities accuse the opposition of plotting to stir unrest, while antigovernment parties say President Ilham Aliyev is likely to falsify the vote. Some European and the U.S. government have urged Azerbaijani authorities to ensure free and fair elections.