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Azerbaijan Under Pressure

Protests in Azerbaijan have been met with a heavy security response. In a nation that depends on oil to keep the economic wheels turning, the continued slump in crude prices, along with the recent drop in value of the national currency, is putting enormous pressure on ordinary people. In recent years President Ilham Aliyev has spent billions on glittering vanity projects, especially in the capital, Baku. But with a government known for corruption and brutality, many Azeris are unimpressed with state spending on the capital’s skyline and the “caviar diplomacy” that has earned the country several recent sporting and cultural events. As the protests continue to simmer, there’s concern that a perfect storm of discontent may be brewing.

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A view of the capital with the city's modern landmark, the 190-meter-high Flame Towers, dominating the skyline during a powerboat race in Baku.
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A view of the capital with the city's modern landmark, the 190-meter-high Flame Towers, dominating the skyline during a powerboat race in Baku.

A woman sweeps a street in front of fashion boutiques in Baku. 
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A woman sweeps a street in front of fashion boutiques in Baku. 

An offical handout photo of President Ilham Aliyev with his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva
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An offical handout photo of President Ilham Aliyev with his wife, Mehriban Aliyeva

An elderly Azerbaijani woman selling bread in the central market of Baku. As towers and stadiums have grown up around them, little has changed for the people on the street.   
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An elderly Azerbaijani woman selling bread in the central market of Baku. As towers and stadiums have grown up around them, little has changed for the people on the street. 

 

Dancers rest during a beach soccer match at the 1st European Games in Baku in 2015. The decision to host the games in Baku was highly controversial, with Amnesty International saying "Azerbaijan may be a safe country for athletes taking part in the 100 meters, but defending rights and free speech is a dangerous game here. Those who champion them receive harassment and prison sentences instead of medals."  
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Dancers rest during a beach soccer match at the 1st European Games in Baku in 2015. The decision to host the games in Baku was highly controversial, with Amnesty International saying "Azerbaijan may be a safe country for athletes taking part in the 100 meters, but defending rights and free speech is a dangerous game here. Those who champion them receive harassment and prison sentences instead of medals."


 

A man walks on the rubble of demolished houses in Baku. Entire districts were razed in the development of new landmarks in the city of 2 million.   
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A man walks on the rubble of demolished houses in Baku. Entire districts were razed in the development of new landmarks in the city of 2 million. 
 

Baku's Crystal Hall. The iconic arena was completed in time to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. 
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Baku's Crystal Hall. The iconic arena was completed in time to host the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest. 

A boy and a girl stand near nodding donkeys in a refugee camp outside Baku. 
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A boy and a girl stand near nodding donkeys in a refugee camp outside Baku. 

Lela Aliyeva (left), a daughter of Azerbaijan's current president, and Mehriban Aliyeva (right), the president's wife, with an unidentified woman viewing an art exhibition in Baku. The exhibition is titled  Internal Peace.
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Lela Aliyeva (left), a daughter of Azerbaijan's current president, and Mehriban Aliyeva (right), the president's wife, with an unidentified woman viewing an art exhibition in Baku. The exhibition is titled  Internal Peace.

The curving lines of the Heydar Aliyev Center in downtown Baku. The complex is named after the father of Azerbaijan's current president. Azerbaijan has lived under the Aliyev family name since 1969. 
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The curving lines of the Heydar Aliyev Center in downtown Baku. The complex is named after the father of Azerbaijan's current president. Azerbaijan has lived under the Aliyev family name since 1969. 

Chickens trussed up and ready for sale in the central market of Baku. As a result of the fall in oil prices the country's currency, the manat, was unpegged from the US dollar in January 2015. Since then the manat has crashed and on January 14 private currency-exchange businesses were shut by the government.   
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Chickens trussed up and ready for sale in the central market of Baku. As a result of the fall in oil prices the country's currency, the manat, was unpegged from the US dollar in January 2015. Since then the manat has crashed and on January 14 private currency-exchange businesses were shut by the government. 
 

Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games at Baku Olympic Stadium.
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Fireworks explode during the opening ceremony of the 2015 European Games at Baku Olympic Stadium.

A man lies in a bathtub filled with crude oil during a health therapy session at Naftalan Health Center in Baku. The abundance of oil in Azerbaijan has kept its economic wheels turning since independence, but with little diversity in the economy the country is now facing an unprecedented crisis.
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A man lies in a bathtub filled with crude oil during a health therapy session at Naftalan Health Center in Baku. The abundance of oil in Azerbaijan has kept its economic wheels turning since independence, but with little diversity in the economy the country is now facing an unprecedented crisis.

A worker walks in front of the oil derricks on the Caspian Sea near Baku. With no end in sight to the economic crisis President Aliyev has made a plea for citizens to "work more efficiently." But patience on the street for the big-spending regime is wearing thin. 
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A worker walks in front of the oil derricks on the Caspian Sea near Baku.
With no end in sight to the economic crisis President Aliyev has made a plea for citizens to "work more efficiently." But patience on the street for the big-spending regime is wearing thin. 

A policeman detains an opposition activist in Baku in 2011. Police crackdowns have muted dissent in the past, but with recent protests springing up spontaneously in small towns throughout the country the current unrest may be the harbinger of troubled times to come. 
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A policeman detains an opposition activist in Baku in 2011. Police crackdowns have muted dissent in the past, but with recent protests springing up spontaneously in small towns throughout the country the current unrest may be the harbinger of troubled times to come. 

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