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Azerbaijani Police Crack Down on Media Rights Advocates

Police in Azerbaijan have broken up an opposition rally in the capital, Baku, aimed at highlighting what critics have denounced as an ongoing government crackdown on journalists and newspapers.

Witnesses say police dispersed hundreds of demonstrators Thursday, including members of the leading opposition "Popular Front" party. Local reports said at least 10 people were arrested.

Pressure on independent media and attacks on opposition journalists are commonplace in Azerbaijan.

Last week, the Baku government threatened to bar local broadcasters from airing the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty and the BBC. Authorities contend it is illegal for local media to carry foreign programming. But media rights advocates disagree.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe issued a statement in September voicing concern over a spate of criminal trials against opposition journalists. The statement said at least five Azerbaijani journalists and several newspapers are facing criminal and civil defamation charges. It said some of the defendants have already received harsh sentences.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.