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Azerbaijani Police Detain Opposition Activists for Radio Protest

Azerbaijani police have detained a group of young opposition members who had planned a protest over the government decision to stop international radio stations from broadcasting on local frequencies.

Police, in Baku, intercepted activists from the opposition Musavat Party and blocked them from approaching the headquarters of Azerbaijan's National Television and Radio Council, the agency that issued the ban.

The council barred local stations in Azerbaijan from broadcasting programs by Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the BBC and Russia's Evropa Plus, effective New Year's Day.

Azerbaijani officials said the action brought the stations in line with the law. They said the four foreign media groups remain free to broadcast via the Internet, satellite or short-wave radio.

U.S. State Department officials have called the ban a serious setback to Azerbaijan's freedom of speech and democratic process.

They said the media groups play a crucial role in supporting democratic debate in Azerbaijan.

International rights groups have accused the government of Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev of suppressing media freedoms while presiding over an oil-fueled economic boom.