Riot police beat and arrested anti-government protesters in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan Saturday, raising tensions in the run-up to parliamentary elections in early November. The demonstration was the latest in a series of protests that have raised concern about stability in the oil-rich Caspian Sea nation.
Clashes broke out in various parts of Baku, Azerbaijan's capital city, as riot police prevented opposition protesters from reaching a city square where they planned to hold a rally.
Opposition leaders planned the rally to protest a police crackdown on a similar demonstration last Sunday in which many people were injured.
The police say they detained 34 people in the latest protest, but opposition leaders say more than 100 were detained.
Street clashes have been happening almost on a weekly basis in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for November 6th.
Opposition parties accuse the government of seeking to crush all dissent and planning to rig the results of the election.
President Ilham Aliyev has promised the elections will be free and fair, and has accused the opposition of seeking to "destabilize" Azerbaijan.
However, the clashes are now raising concerns about unrest in the oil-rich republic on the Caspian Sea where many foreign oil companies have major investments.
Just hours before Saturday's clashes the U.S. embassy in Baku urged restraint on both sides.
And last week European officials tried to get the two sides to hold negotiations.
Analysts say the political pressure on President Aliyev may lead him to seek some kind of compromise with his opponents.
Irina Kobrinskaya is a security specialist at the Institute of Europe in Moscow. She says if elections are held, Mr. Aliyev's opponents are likely to do well, but she adds that an election, if it is considered fair, could silence some of his critics and help the president stay in power. "It seems to me the regime of Aliyev will be even more weak if parliamentary elections are open, fair because it means he will have an opposition in Parliament. Still, he will have more chance to survive and keep stability in the country," she said.
President Aliyev has led the country for two years following the death of his father, who had ruled the country with a strong hand for years.