Azerbaijan’s secular opposition groups are planning to stage new protests ahead of next month’s Eurovision Song Contest after holding the biggest demonstration since 2005 against the government of President Ilham Aliyev.
The Public Chamber, which comprises the main opposition parties Musavat, People’s Front, National Independence and several other opposition groups, said 10,000 people attended a sanctioned rally yesterday in a suburb 10 kilometers from the center of the capital, Baku. City police put the number at about 1,200. The next protest is set for April 22.
The protesters demanded Aliyev’s resignation and democratic change and called for the release of 16 people imprisoned for attending unsanctioned opposition rallies held in Baku last year. Aliyev took over from his father in 2003.
Emboldened by popular movements that have toppled authoritarian leaders in the Middle East, Azeri opposition leaders want to seize the media spotlight in the weeks before Baku hosts Eurovision, the world’s most watched singing competition. Azerbaijan, a Caspian Sea nation of 9 million people, is the third-biggest energy producer in the former Soviet Union after Russia and Kazakhstan.
“We are confident that democratic changes will come to Azerbaijan too,” Isa Qambar, leader of the main opposition party Musavat, or Equality, told the protesters. “It is only a matter of time.”
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