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Azerbaijan's Parliament Strips Opposition Lawmaker of Immunity - 2003-10-17


Azerbaijan's parliament has met in emergency session and voted to lift a colleague's immunity, after prosecutors said they were investigating whether he and other opposition politicians incited this week's post-election violence.

Lawmakers voted unanimously to strip Igbal Agazade's immunity from prosecution after being shown video footage of the opposition leader reportedly urging the crowds in central Baku Thursday to fight for victory.

Mr. Agazade's party had backed the man who came in a distant second to outgoing president Heidar Aliyev's son, Ilham Aliyev, in a presidential election marred by fraud according to the opposition and several international rights groups.

Azerbaijan's government blames the opposition for the violence, and the former Soviet republic's interior minister has said that those responsible for the unrest will have to answer before the law for their actions.

Azerbaijan's Prosecutor General's office and the Interior Ministry said Friday that nearly 200 people had been arrested for involvement in the unrest, which broke out shortly after the polls closed Wednesday evening.

Smaller clashes continued overnight and on Thursday developed into some of the worst political violence Azerbaijan has seen in a decade.

In a joint statement Friday, authorities said the arrests were made to restore public order and protect the population.

The officials noted that 64 police officers were injured in the riots, which at their height pitted about 3,000 demonstrators against riot police, backed up by army conscripts and special forces.

Twenty people were reported injured among the opposition.

Meanwhile there is a massive police presence in the capital and the forces are reported to be on high alert, in a bid to head off any further unrest. Busloads of riot police are stationed near potential trouble spots, and armored personnel carriers are parked on the central square.

Security also has been tightened in and around Azerbaijan's Central Election Commission headquarters, amid word of another planned protest rally.

Final results from Wednesday's elections have not been released, but there is little doubt that the commanding lead ascribed to Ilham Aliyev in early results will stand.

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