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Opposition Activists Hold Anticorruption Rally In Baku

 Azerbaijani opposition gathering in Baku, Sept. 23, 2017.
Azerbaijani opposition gathering in Baku, Sept. 23, 2017.

Hundreds of opposition activists attended an anticorruption protest in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku.

The protest, which has been sanctioned by the municipal government, was organized by the National Council of Democratic Forces -- an umbrella organization bringing together some of Azerbaijan's opposition forces.

Baku police said in a statement that about 1,500 people attended the Saturday rally, although the organizers disputed the official figure, saying the actual attendance was higher. Azerbaijan's Turan news agency said thousands participated in the rally held in the Yasamal district of Baku.

According to the statement, supporters of the Popular Front Party, People's Democratic Party, National Statehood Party, Musavat Party Youth Organization, Muslim Union, and NIDA Movement participated in the action.

No incidents occurred during the rally, the statement said.

However, ahead of the rally, at least three members of the Popular Front Party were reportedly detained by authorities on Friday. It was immediately unclear whether they were subsequently released.

At the end of the rally, which started at 3 p.m. local time and lasted for two hours, electricity was cut off in the area.

The protest, held under the slogan "Return the money stolen from the people," came after an investigative report by a group of international journalists and anticorruption activists called The Azerbaijani Laundromat named state officials allegedly tied to money-laundering operations.

The report alleges the scheme was “a complex money-laundering operation and slush fund that handled $2.9 billion over a two-year period through four shell companies" registered in the United Kingdom.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev's press secretary, Azer Gasimov, has called the report "absurd."

Activists accuse Azerbaijan’s government of repressing journalists, civil society activists, and human rights workers.

They have urged Western governments to do more to confront authorities in Baku.

The oil-rich South Caucasus nation has faced growing social and economic problems stemming from falling world oil prices in recent years.