Economic problems flame up Azeri town

Economic problems flame up Azeri town

Economic problems flame up Azeri town

Riot police look on as firefighters try to put out fires from a building after mass protests. Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters.

Azeri police used tear gas and water cannon on Jan.24 to disperse hundreds of protesters demanding the resignation of a regional leader, the day after cars were torched and a hotel set ablaze in a night of rioting.

Nizami Alekperov, Ismailli regional governor, rejected protesters’ demands, but complaints about wages, unemployment and oppressive government in the oil-producing country may send a worrying signal to President Ilham Aliyev in an election year.

At least one building was on fire and the burning carcasses of vehicles set ablaze by up to 3,000 rioters on Jan. 23 night in the town of Ismailli, 200 kilometers northwest of Baku. Several protesters threw stones at riot police and barred a street with steel pipes.

Witnesses said hundreds of protesters regrouped Jan. 24 in the town of 21,000 and surrounded the governor’s residence, shaking their fists and chanting “Resignation! Resignation!”

“We are tired of unemployment, poverty and an atmosphere of fear,” one protester, who declined to be identified, told the Azeri Turan news agency.

Turan quoted witnesses as saying the demonstration only subsided after tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannon were used. Police, who brought in reinforcements, said some of their number was injured along with some protesters. The unrest started as a brawl involving a local hotel owner who crashed his car, and rapidly spiraled into a riot involving up to 3,000 people, according to witnesses.

Rioters mobbed the driver’s hotel, setting fire to it and torching cars in the courtyard, before moving to the home of Alekperov’s son where a car and two motorcycles were set ablaze.

The speed with which violence spread in the small town spoke to the complaints residents have of corruption, an overbearing local government and an increasing divide between rich and poor that has become endemic in the oil and natural gas-rich country.