Police, market traders clash in Azerbaijan
BAKU, Azerbaijan — Police in Azerbaijan clashed on Saturday with market vendors who blocked a major road to protest an increase in rental fees for their stalls that was imposed by the owners of their trading center. Footage on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan service showed riot police firing tear gas into large crowds occupying a rock-strewn highway about 15 kilometers (10 miles) outside the capital, Baku.
The former Soviet republic has grown rich on its oil, but government critics contend that the wealth is unevenly distributed, leading to social tensions. Police said 10 officers were seriously injured and several service vehicles were damaged in the clash. “Participants in the incident did not heed warnings to desist from their action aimed at disrupting public order. They resisted police and resorted to actions perilous to life and health,” prosecutors and police said in a joint statement.
At least 30 people were detained, police said. Although anger among vendors at the Bina trading center was not directed at the government, some expressed frustration at what they said was the lack of support from the authorities. “We want help. We want the government to listen to us. They are demanding that we pay an additional 250 manat ($320) for rent. That is very expensive, more than in other places,” said one man filmed by RFE/RL. Average monthly salaries in Azerbaijan stand at around $450.
85 detained in anti-terror raids in Turkey
ISTANBUL, Jan. 18 — Turkish police detained 85 people on Friday in a series of anti-terror raids in seven cities including Istanbul, Ankara and Izmir in a full-scale crackdown on an outlawed left-wing group. Initial reports said that among those detained were lawyers affiliated with the Contemporary Jurists’ Association, according to English daily Today’s Zaman.
The lawyers were reportedly held on accusations that they were receiving messages and orders from jailed leaders of the Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party/Front, a terrorist organization that has carried out a number of attacks in Turkey, and conveying them to members of the terrorist group. The operation took place at dawn with the assistance of officers from the Special Forces Command and riot police. About 1, 000 officers participated in the operation. In Istanbul alone, police carried out raids in several districts and detained 55 people — 15 of them are reportedly lawyers.
Claims surfaced that the lawyers had given support to prisoners who staged a massive hunger strike in their prison cells last year in support of broader rights for Abdullah Ocalan, the jailed leader of the terrorist Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK). In Izmir, the detained suspects were taken to the local police department and are to be sent to Istanbul later for interrogation. Meanwhile, in Bursa, police and the special forces stormed dozens of houses, seizing drugs and numerous weapons.
Lebanese protest French delay in release of leftist militant
More than 150 people protested outside the base of French peacekeeping forces in southern Lebanon on Saturday, demanding the release of a Lebanese leftist militant imprisoned in France for almost 30 years. No one appeared to have been hurt, but a week of small protests around the country, including the vandalisation of a French cultural center, could raise tensions between the two countries.
Protests were sparked by a French court’s postponement of a decision on the release of 61-year-old George Abdallah until January 28. Abdallah had been granted parole earlier this month on condition of deportation from France. Lebanon’s prime minister has criticized the delay as “an unjustified step”, and demanded Abdallah’s quick release. Abdallah was arrested in 1984 and sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a U.S. military attache and an Israeli diplomat. On Saturday, protesters including members of Abdallah’s family raised Lebanese flags and anti-French slogans outside a French peacekeeping compound near the coastal city of Tyre. Several tried to climb the outer walls of the base but were stopped by Lebanese forces.
France has a contingent of more than 1,000 in the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), which has about 12,000 troops in all. It has been deployed since 1978 to watch the border between Lebanon and Israel, which remain technically in a state of war. Lebanon’s interior ministry assured the French embassy on Friday that it was taking measures to protect French interests.