Car accident triggers unrest in Azerbaijan town
BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — It began late at night with a minor car accident. By midday Thursday, a hotel had been burned to the ground, several expensive vehicles torched and crowds were facing off with police to demand a leading regional official’s resignation. The episode has exposed latent tensions nurtured by economic inequality and unresponsive governance in the oil-abundant Azerbaijan. The ostentatious display of wealth and aggressive, arrogant behavior among well-connected individuals is commonplace across resource-rich former Soviet republics and engenders much bitterness. That appears to have served as the spark for the unrest in Ismayilli, a resort town of 15,000 people beside a hilly nature reserve 175 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital, Baku.
Trouble began Wednesday night when the owner of a local hotel, 22-year-old Emil Shamsaddinov, reacted to his Chevrolet Camaro sports car veering onto a sidewalk and colliding with an electricity pole by getting into a fight with another motorist. The victim of the attack was parked by the side of the road in a Soviet-era Zhiguli, the ubiquitous model favored for cheapness rather than quality. Shamsaddinov, who police said may have been drunk, berated and swore at onlookers nearby, prompting an angry reaction from an assembled group of Ismayilli’s residents.
The dispute quickly escalated, leading to around 3,000 residents raiding Shamsaddinov’s Chyrag hotel — the name of the hotel means “fire” in Azeri — and setting alight several of his cars, which included the Camaro, a Chevrolet Niva and a Hummer. Police say the rampage lasted about four hours. In amateur video of burning vehicles and buildings uploaded to the Internet, people in the crowd are heard laughing and cheering. The mob then directed its ire at the son of the Ismayilli district chief, whose house they also attacked. There they set fire to a Toyota Land Cruiser and two motorcycles.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Azerbaijan service, which is funded by the U.S. Congress, cited local residents as saying Shamsaddinov’s hotel was being used for prostitution and that local authorities had failed to heed requests for it to be closed. On Thursday, despite an increased security presence in the town, hundreds of people went back onto the streets and surrounded a regional government building and demanded the regional governor resign. Independent news agency Turan reporter Aziz Kerimov told The Associated Press by telephone from Ismayilli that police fired tear gas and water cannons at half-hour intervals as the crowd refused to disperse.
Some in the crowd responded to police appeals for them to leave the area by throwing rocks. Between 10 and 15 people were detained by early afternoon, Kerimov said. Calm had returned to Ismayilli by the evening, although the anger may not have subsided. Kerimov quoted people in Ismayilli as saying they want to repeat the scenario that played out in another town last year, when a regional official was forced to step down in the wake of violent clashes. Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital, has in recent years become a glamorous playground for the country’s elite, but oil revenue is unevenly distributed among the mainly Muslim country’s 9 million people, and average monthly salaries stand around $450.
That has nurtured frustration. Business is often perceived in Azerbaijan as operating in intimate collusion with the government, which opposition activists argue is riddled with corruption. Berlin-based Transparency International ranked Azerbaijan 139th out of 176 countries in its 2012 Corruption Perception Index. Opposition parties and independent journalists are routinely harassed by the authorities. This is the second major instance of public disorder in the authoritarian former Soviet nation in only a few days
. On Saturday, market traders blocked a highway 50 kilometers (30 miles) outside Baku and clashed with riot police in a spontaneous protest over increased rent for their stalls. A week before that, in Baku itself, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in a central square to protest the death of a military conscript earlier this month. The demonstration was broken up by police. That rally was organized through social media, not by established opposition parties, an indication that opposition to the government is increasingly being propelled by grass-roots activism.
S.Africa riot death toll climbs to four
JOHANNESBURG — Four people were killed and 259 arrested during three days of rioting in Sasolburg, an industrial hub in the centre of South Africa, police said Thursday. Two of them died when police fired into a mob of protesters that had besieged a police station.
“The police shot at the group and two African males were shot,” Moses Dlamini, a spokesman for the Independent Police Investigative Directorate, said in a statement. A third person was shot dead on Tuesday by a business owner who fired at a mob that had attacked his shop. As for the fourth victim, Sam Makhele, police spokesman for the region, 80 kilometre (50 miles) south of Johannesburg, declined to give details surrounding the death, saying an investigation was still under way. Local media claimed he was shot by a motorist.
Police arrested 259 people for looting, public violence and malicious damage to property during the three days of rioting. Residents took to the streets to show their anger at proposed plans to merge their town with a neighbouring municipality, which they regard as poorly run and corrupt. They barricaded streets with burning tyres and burnt down cars, with dozens injured as police fired rubber bullets.
Greece’s fragile political stability at risk as violence escalates
In the space of just a couple of weeks Greece’s largest shopping mall has been targeted in a bomb attack, gunmen have fired on the headquarters of the ruling New Democracy party, and gas canisters have been set off outside an array of political party offices, banks and the homes of journalists. Now three days after the attack on the shopping centre – which sent counter-terrorist officials on a painstaking hunt that has, as yet, borne little fruit – fears are mounting that Greece’s fragile political stability could be shattered by extremists determined to exploit fury over unpopular austerity.
“The government is very, very concerned,” said a senior aide to one of the coalition’s tripartite leaders. “Political stability is essential to getting through the year.” In a nation that thought the spectre of terrorism had been laid to rest – with the dissolution, a decade ago, of the notorious November 17 group – the appearance of gangs prepared to take unprecedented risks has put authorities on edge.
After the office of the conservative prime minister, Antonis Samaras, was targeted in the attack on New Democracy’s central offices, urban guerillas upped the ante on Sunday, placing a bomb in Athens’ biggest commercial centre, a massive shopping mall popular with families. Two security guards were lightly injured in the blast after warning calls to two local media outlets, barely 50 minutes earlier, triggered a panic-stricken evacuation of nearly 300 people from the building. Many were children about to see movies.
Initially the government blamed the violence on forces of the anti-austerity left, saying militants were taking revenge following a raid on a squat in the capital that had led to the arrest of scores of anarchists. Hundreds of petrol bombs, often used against riot police in demonstrations, were also confiscated. In a bid to limit the influence of far-right extremists gathered around the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, the conservative-dominated coalition has given added emphasis to law and order since assuming power in June.
“The police, by cracking down on their traditional anti-authority adversaries, are attempting to reclaim the law and order mantle for the current government,” says former US diplomat Brady Kiesling, who has been studying Greek far left-anarchist violence for a forthcoming book. “The anarchists [in turn] are determined to humiliate them with symbolic attacks.”
Metro Strikers Ordered Back to Work
ATHENS — Greece’s ruling coalition on Thursday issued an emergency order demanding that striking subway employees go back to work or face massive arrests and potential job losses in the latest labor showdown to grip the beleaguered government. It is the first time that the governing three-party coalition has invoked such an emergency measure in a bid to face down swelling social unrest since taking power seven months ago amid popular anger over additional austerity and fiscal reforms. The decision to proceed with a civil mobilization order was taken by Prime Minister Antonis Samaras following four-hour crisis talks with key advisors.
Subway workers stayed off the job for an eighth day Thursday, paralyzing Athens and leaving millions of commuters stranded. “The government can no longer sit back and watch with indifference,” said Kostis Hadiztdakis, the minister for development and transport. “Neither the government nor society can be held hostage to union mentality.” Under the civil mobilization order, striking employee have 24 hours to return to work or face arrest and potential layoffs.
It remained unclear, however, whether the emergency order, which allows for the military to step in to keep the Athens subway running if necessary, applied to other transport sectors, including the capital’s urban rail and tram system, that have been hit by strikes. Kept afloat by international loans, Greece escaped financial collapse last month when European nations and the International Monetary Fund agreed to continue issuing rescue funds, provided Athens carried through with implementing fiscal reforms, including a reduction and streamlining of public-sector pay.
With private earnings already down by at least 25%, striking workers, union leaders and leftist politicians remained defiant of the emergency decree. Moreover, other transport sectors, including the powerful seamens’ federation, joined forces in solidarity, announcing a 48-hour strike next week. “We have nothing left to lose,” declared union leader Antonis Stamatopoulous, holed up behind the green gates of the subway’s main depot in Sepolia, south of Athens. “We’re not bowing down. We’re not coming out. They can send the army, but they’ll be dragging out our corpses.”