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Last Updated: Saturday, 25 November 2006, 13:27 GMT
Azeri party and newspaper evicted
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Azeri police have evicted a main opposition party and a newspaper from their offices in the capital, Baku.

About 100 officers surrounded the building, housing the Azadliq newspaper and the Popular Front party.

Officials said the evictions were due to unpaid rent, but opposition leaders said it was part of a campaign to silence dissent.

On Friday Azeri authorities shut down the country's biggest independent broadcaster, ANS.

They said ANS' licence was not renewed because it had violated the broadcasting law and disregarded official warnings and fines.

'Targeted policy'

A day after a court ordered the evictions, police began removing computers and other equipment from the building in Baku.

Both the Azadliq newspaper and the Popular Front denied they had failed to pay rent.

"There is no doubt that a deliberate, targeted policy is being carried out with the aim of ensuring that everyone thinks identically - and that if somebody does not, that he stays silent," Elchin Shykhlinsky, head of the Union of Journalists of Azerbaijan, told the Associated Press news agency.

AP quoted Popular Front deputy leader Fuad Mustafayev as saying the party would fight for its rights "through all permissible methods of political struggle".

Signal cut

Earlier, the representative of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Baku, Maurizio Pavesi, said he was deeply concerned about the closure of a broadcaster widely considered to be the most objective in the country.

Broadcasting ended when police surrounded the ANS building in the capital and officials switched off its transmitters.

ANS says its radio channel was also taken off the air during a report about an Azeri newspaper editor who had been taken to hospital after a hunger strike.

He had been protesting about the threat and closure of the offices of Azadliq.

Campaigners for media freedom have accused the Azeri government of curbing free speech in recent months by arresting journalists, launching punitive libel suits and trying to silence independent voices such as ANS, the BBC's Matthew Collin reports from the region.

President Ilham Aliyev has denied there is a problem with freedom of speech in Azerbaijan and the Azeri authorities say they are simply enforcing the law.


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