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Azerbaijan: Protest Fast To Renew RFE/RL Broadcasts Grows

By Mirza Michaeli

Prague, 4 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- It is day three of a protest fast in Baku organized by a group called "Youth In Defense of RL Rights," in support of restoring RFE/RL's Azerbaijani-language, mediumwave broadcasts. Correspondents in Baku report three more people joined the fast today, bringing to eight the number refusing to eat.

The group issued a statement today, outlining two goals. First, the statement said, "we want to protect RFE/RL's Azerbaijani-language service's right to broadcast its programs on mediumwave in Azerbaijan." The statement also said, "we will continue our fast until the authorities realize that they cannot suppress freedom of the press and freedom of expression."

The second goal outlined in the statement is "to protect the dignity of the Azerbaijani people."

The group said Azerbaijani authorities have no right to decide to which radio service people can or cannot listen, or which newspaper to read - or not to read. And the statement says Azerbaijani people should not be treated as though they are immature, and that everyone should have the right of choice.

The statement says the group will continue its protest "until we achieve our goals."

Another group, known as the "RL Defense Committee," which is comprised of RFE/RL supporters, opposition leaders and rights monitoring groups says it plans another protest rally in Baku tomorrow (Tue, May 5). And, independent newspapers tomorrow also all plan to print only two words on their frontpages: "Radio Azadlyk."

Authorities halted the broadcasts two weeks ago on the grounds that the U.S.-funded radio service lacks proper documents.

The U.S. State Department has expressed "grave concern" over the shutdown, and urged Azerbaijan to restore the mediumwave broadcasts. Broadcasts have continued on shortwave.