Anti-Govt. Protests Grip Azerbaijan, 55 Arrested


Azerbaijan has arrested 55 protesters, officials said Thursday, after police used tear gas to disperse anti-government rallies across the energy-rich country hit hard by falling oil prices.

Mass protests gripped the ex-Soviet Caspian nation earlier this week amid swelling discontent over price hikes and the collapse of the national currency.

"Protesters on Wednesday used force against representatives of the law enforcement agencies during an unsanctioned march in Siazan district" in eastern Azerbaijan, the interior ministry said in a statement. "Police forces have restored public order."

"Fifty-five protesters were arrested," the ministry said, adding they had been charged with disobeying police and "committing antisocial acts."

"Similar events took place in (the) Lenkaran, Fizuli, Agdjabedi and Agsu districts of Azerbaijan during protests organised by the (opposition) Popular Front and Musavat parties," the ministry said.

Local media reported that police used tear gas against stone-throwing protesters in Siazan and several other provincial towns.

Azerbaijan in December recorded an 11-fold acceleration of inflation with consumer prices rising by 4.4 percent after a 0.4-percent rise in November. Annual inflation stood at 7.6 percent in December.

Azerbaijan's national currency, the manat, plummeted last month by over 32 percent.

The central bank in December said that the economy is hurt by "falling oil prices and the continuing devaluation of partner countries' currencies."

Energy exports constitute up to three quarters of Azerbaijan's state revenues, making the Caucasus country's economy highly dependent on global price trends.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) last year forecast that Azerbaijan's once-booming economy was expected to grow by 2.5 percent in 2016 compared with four-percent growth rate in 2015.

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