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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Azerbaijani Opposition Plans to Take Up Arms: Minister

BAKU, Oct 3 (AFP) - Azerbaijan's interior minister warned on Monday that opposition activists were planning armed riots following upcoming parliamentary elections on November 6. "We have information that the opposition is planning to organize riots the day after elections with the use of weapons and we will consider this reality," Interior Minister Ramil Usubov said. "If there are more unsanctioned events, naturally the police will do their duty," he told journalists. Tensions have risen ahead of the vote in this oil-rich South Caucasus republic. President Ilham Aliyev has accused the opposition of exploiting the elections to "destabilize" the country, while the opposition alleges that the government plans to rig the poll. On Saturday hundreds of riot police violently broke up a peaceful demonstration the opposition had mounted for the second time in under a week. Pro-government television reported police as saying the opposition had armed themselves with crowbars and injured several officers during Saturday's protest -- accusations denied by the opposition. Another rally is planned for this Saturday by the Azadliq (Freedom) block. On Monday, Aliyev reiterated his earlier promises to ensure a fair vote, saying that preparations were going smoothly. "I am sure that the elections due in November will be free and fair and the will of the Azerbaijani people will be reflected," he said at a news conference. Azerbaijan's last national vote, the controversial 2003 presidential elections in which Ilham Aliyev took over the country's top post from his father Heydar Aliyev, ended in days of protests and hundreds of arrests.

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