Azerbaijan police break up protest against abuse in army

Azerbaijan police break up protest against abuse in army

Reuters
March 10, 2013

By Lada Evgrashina | Reuters

BAKU (Reuters) – Police in Azerbaijan arrested dozens of protesters
who rallied against violence in the military on Sunday, firing water
cannon and rubber bullets to disperse crowds.

The protest was one of a series triggered by the death of a conscript,
Jeyhun Gubadov, on January 7 at a military barracks. His death added
to a string of other non-combat deaths under murky circumstances in
the military in recent years.

The Defence Ministry said initially Gubadov had died of a heart
attack, but his family believed he was beaten to death and four
soldiers were arrested after an investigation was opened.

About 500 people, mostly young opposition activists, gathered in the
capital Baku shouting “No to deaths in the army”, some holding
portraits of dead soldiers.

Baton-wielding police were swift to crack down on the unsanctioned
demonstration. Within minutes they had fired smoke bombs into the
crowd and begun detaining protesters.

“I can’t be indifferent to the fact that young soldiers die in our
army almost every week,” said a protester named Gulshan, who held up
three photographs of dead soldiers.

Western governments and human rights groups accuse Azerbaijan’s
President Ilham Aliyev, who succeeded his father in 2003, of rigging
elections and of clamping down on dissent. Protests are often swiftly
broken up by security forces.

Buoyed by oil wealth, Azerbaijan has increased military spending to
demonstrate its military power to its neighbor and arch foe
Armenia. Two countries are locked in a dispute over the region of
Nagorno-Karabakh.

But experts say the army is in desperate need of reforms to combat low
moral and the chronic bullying of conscripts by their superiors.

Some 77 Azeri soldiers died last year in non-combat related deaths,
including suicides and shootings, according to local watchdog group,
the “Doctrine” Journalists’ Military Research Centre.

(Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

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