The run-up to Saturday’s Eurovision song contest in Azerbaijan continues to be overshadowed by the authorities’ crackdown on dissent. Dozens more protesters have been arrested in Baku.
Police in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku, broke up an anti-government demonstration and arrested dozens of protesters on Thursday.
Police moved in after opposition activists gathered in front of the headquarters of Azerbaijan's state television station and began reading out statements demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to alleged censorship by the country's state media.
"Thirty to 35 people were detained," Leila Mustafayeva, a spokesperson for the opposition alliance Public Chamber told the AFP news agency.
Among those arrested were two women who held up a banner reading “We want public TV, not Ilham TV,” in a clear reference to the country's president, Ilham Aliyev.
The unauthorized demonstration came a few hours before the second semifinal of the Eurovision song contest, which is being held in Baku this year after the entry from Azerbaijan won last year's event. As the official partner of Eurovision, the state television station is hosting this year's contest.
Opponents of President Aliyev and his government have been trying to use the run-up to the event to draw international attention to alleged human rights abuses in the energy-rich country.
Government condemns 'politicization' of event
The government, meanwhile, condemned a meeting on Wednesday between the Swedish contestant, Loreen, with local human rights activists.
"The European Broadcasting Union must intervene in this issue and stop these politicized actions," Ali Hasanov, a senior official in the president's administration told the Trend news agency.
The final of the song contest, which is to be held on Saturday evening, will be broadcast live all over Europe. The annual event regularly attracts television audiences estimated at around 125 million people.
pfd/msh (AFP, dpa)