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Azerbaijani Protesters Detained Ahead Of Rally

Protesters Detained In Baku
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WATCH: Police detain activists on their way to the rally in front of the mayor's office.

BAKU -- Police in the Azerbaijani capital today detained dozens of opposition activists on their way to a rally outside the mayor's office, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

The rally was organized by the opposition Azadliq (Liberty) political grouping, which includes the Azerbaijan Popular Front Party, the Liberal Party, and the Civil and Development Party. They were picketing the Mayor's Office to demand that the authorities respect freedom of assembly.

But police and plainclothes officers did not allow the activists to gather at City Hall, and detained the demonstrators in small groups near the Iceri Seher subway station. Police said protesters were arrested because the gathering was not sanctioned by city authorities.

Azadliq representatives said about 80 party members were detained. They said about 50 of them were taken to the police department and the rest driven to various parts of the city.

The bloc had asked authorities to sanction a protest on April 25 in front of the Baku City Hall, but it received no answer. Nevertheless, the bloc decided to hold an unsanctioned picket on April 26 demanding official observance of the right to free assembly.

Police also broke up a similar protest two weeks ago at the same location organized by the opposition Musavat party.

The Azerbaijani Constitution guarantees freedom of assembly, but the Baku authorities have refused to allow public protests in the city center for three years, only permitting demonstrations on the outskirts.

Parliamentary elections will take place in the fall. The main opposition parties, including Musavat and the Popular Front Party, vowed to take part in the elections and to challenge the ruling Yeni Azerbaijan Party.