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Two Officials Held After Azerbaijani Shop Owner's Suicide

BAKU -- Two officials in northern Azerbaijan have been detained in connection with the suicide of a local entrepreneur, RFE/RL's Azerbaijani Service reports.

Hikmat Salimov, 59, jumped to his death from a bridge in Sheki on February 3 in what his family said was a protest against the demolition of his construction materials shop.

The Prosecutor-General's Office confirmed today that criminal proceedings have been launched against two Sheki city officials for abusing their authority.

It said the two -- deputy city administration head Eldaniz Qahramanov and its chief architect, Yusif Abdurrahmanov -- "violated the entrepreneur's constitutional rights, came to his shop several times, [and] gave illegal orders."

Salimov's wife, Naila Salimova, told local media that since 2003 officials had put pressure on her husband to close down his shop in the market.

After the shop was forcibly closed down, Salimov built a new shop outside the market.

But Salimova said Murad Jabbarly, the city administration head, demanded Salimov pull down his shop's attic, which had been built without permission.

Salimov reportedly wanted to prevent bulldozers from destroying the whole shop in the process, and committed suicide after he was unable to save his store.

Reacting to the detention of the two officials, Salimov's family said they blamed only the city authority head. They said the authorities had decided to sacrifice low-profile officials.

Over the past 10 days, Azerbaijani ministers have held a series of interministerial sessions and publicized high-profile statements on how to fight corruption.

The ministers of economic development, taxes, and finance also criticized illegal inspections and artificial barriers for entrepreneurs.

The sessions and statements are widely seen as an attempt by the government to preempt possible social protests inspired by the uprising in Egypt.