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Azerbaijani Protesters Gather On Eve Of Eurovision


Police detain a protester during the unsanctioned demonstration on May 21.
BAKU -- Azerbaijani opposition parties have held an unsanctioned demonstration in the capital to highlight rights abuses, and reports say a number of demonstrators were beaten and arrested.

The extent of injuries from the confrontation was not immediately clear.

The protest was staged as Baku is preparing to host the Eurovision Song Contest, which begins on May 22.

The opposition movement has pleged to hold a series demonstrations during the contest, which runs through May 26 and has attracted spectators from across Europe, to publicize human rights violations in Azerbaijan.

In the Baku protest dozens of activists, united in a group called the Public Chamber, gathered near the Nizami Museum of Literature and called for Mayor Hajibala Abutalibov’s resignation over the government's refusal to allow opposition demonstrations in the Baku center.

Police prevented protesters from marching to the mayor’s office.

Senior presidential administration official Ali Hasanov, meanwhile, said rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch were spreading lies about Azerbaijan, and Western media were conducting an "anti-Azerbaijani" campaign.

He also blamed neighboring Iran for suggesting a gay pride parade will be held in Baku during Eurovision.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP