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U.S., Norwegian Officials Kept From Azerbaijani Village

BAKU -- Officials from the U.S. and Norwegian embassies in Azerbaijan were blocked today from entering a village in the exclave of Naxcivan, where clashes between police and locals occurred earlier last week, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

U.S. officials on the fact-finding trip told RFE/RL they were met by a large group of villagers before they could enter the village of Bananyar and were told to leave the area. The embassy officials included Joanna Ganson, the political adviser at the U.S. Embassy.

People who live in Bananyar told RFE/RL that the group that blocked the delegation of embassy officials from entering their village were mainly from Abraqunus and other nearby villages and had been organized by government officials to deter the diplomats.

Disturbances broke out between police and people in Bananyar first on December 28 -- the day after Ashura -- and again on January 5, with security forces beating and detaining more than 100 people. Most have since been released, although two villagers are known to be held in a mental institution and several others are still jailed, including local opposition leader Rza Nuriyev.

Meanwhile, local human rights activists cancelled a planned visit to Naxcivan today. Activist Saadat Bananyarli told RFE/RL they were waiting for official permission from Naxcivan for the visit but received no reply from authorities.

Naxcivan is an Azerbaijani exclave that is bordered by Iran, Armenia, and Turkey.