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Last Updated: Wednesday, 15 December, 2004, 14:59 GMT
Protests after Azeri graves moved
By Natalia Antelava
BBC News in the Caucasus

Oil pipelines in Azerbaijan
Oil from Azerbaijan will be piped across Georgia to Turkey
Protests over the removal of graves are posing a challenge to the multi-billion dollar pipeline for transporting Caspian oil from Azerbaijan to Turkey.

The pipeline will stretch from Baku, through Georgia to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan in Turkey.

But activists in Azerbaijan say British Petroleum, the leader of the 13-company consortium building the pipeline, has moved 26 Muslim graves out of the way.

BP says the graves were moved in accordance with Islamic tradition.

The graves of the small Muslim cemetery were more than 100 years old and in them, according to the locals, were bodies of victims of the plague that thrived in the area at the turn of the last century.

Locals say BP never informed them of its plans to move the cemetery. They also say they fear that moving the corpses could bring the disease back, since the plague virus remains alive for more than a century.

But BP and Azerbaijan's ministry of health say no sign of the plague virus has been found in the area.

Energy corridor

BP also says all of the graves were moved in accordance with Islamic tradition and the company's own safety regulations.

This is the latest of many controversies BP has faced ever since the construction of the $3.5bn (1.8bn) pipeline was launched in 2002.

Due to be finished next year, the pipeline will pose a serious challenge to Russia's traditional monopoly on the Caspian resources and serve as a natural energy corridor between the East and West.

For the politicians in the region, this US-backed project is a guarantee of stability and prosperity.

But watchdog groups in the region have been critical of BP's safety and environmental practices and many locals along the route that stretches through some of the world's most impoverished areas say they no longer believe the pipeline will bring the wealth the government has promised them.

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