Rights Activists Detained Ahead of Eurovision Finals in Azerbaijan

Posted May 25th, 2012 at 3:40 pm (UTC-5)
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Police in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, have arrested dozens of anti-government protesters who took to the streets ahead of a European song contest to draw attention to the human rights situation in the country.

Up to 30 people were reportedly picked up by police Friday as the former Soviet republic prepared for the finals of the Eurovision song contest. Some protesters were shouting demands for freedom as they were dragged into police vans.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is hosting the glitzy event because its song won the contest last year in Germany. The government is trying to capitalize on Eurovision to boost Azerbaijan's image as a successful emerging economy.

But local activists have seized on the international media presence to draw attention to the government's authoritarian leanings. Some have accused the Western powers of ignoring the trampling of freedoms in the Caspian country for the sake of oil.

Swedish contestant Loreen, who is tipped as a favorite to win the finals on Saturday, is the only participant who has met with opposition activists.

Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev took over after the death of his late father in 2003. International rights groups have accused Azerbaijan's authorities of stifling freedoms and observers noted serious flaws in the 2008 election, which returned Mr. Aliyev to power.