Thu, Feb 17, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Soldiers tackle Azerbaijani prison revolt

PROTEST The soldiers were called in after more than 200 inmates fortified themselves on their prison's roof, where they demanded better treatment from the administration

AP , BAKU, AZERBAIJAN

Inmates hold flags standing on the roof of their prison in Baku, Azerbaijan, on Tuesday to demand the ouster of the prison chief.

PHOTO: AFP

Shooting and an explosion broke out overnight as troops moved into a prison in the Azerbaijani capital where more than 200 inmates had broken onto the roof to demand the ouster of the prison chief and seek better conditions, eyewitnesses and local media reported yesterday.

Several ambulances could be seen leaving the area but it was unclear how many casualties there were, witnesses said. Police had moved observers far away from the prison perimeter shortly after midnight, and water cannons then moved in, shooting heavy streams of water at the roof. Several fire engines were on the scene.

After dawn, prisoners started descending a ladder from the roof, but a knot of 15 to 20 inmates remained standing at the center of the roof.

Authorities maintained silence yesterday, issuing no official statements about the situation. Rights activists said inmates at a second prison south of Baku, No. 13, had refused to re-enter their building after evening exercise and shouted slogans against the prison administration in a show of solidarity.

On Tuesday, Natig Talybov, the head of the Justice Ministry department overseeing prisons, told reporters that the protesters' demands were illegal. He said, however, that the authorities would negotiate a peaceful end to the protest and pledged not to use force.

As negotiations went on, groups of inmates stayed on the roof of the three-story prison, chanting "Resignation!" and holding white sheets with "SOS" written on them, along with statements denouncing the prison chief. Other inmates strolled around the prison yard.

As darkness fell, protesters set campfires on the roof to warm themselves up in frigid temperatures, and some lay down, wrapped in blankets. Outside the wall, commandos beat truncheons against their shields and police dogs barked.

Ogtai Gasymov, the prison chief, told reporters that the prison held 842 convicts and dismissed the protesters' claims of bad conditions.

Elmira Suleimanova, the Azerbaijani human rights commissioner, said after visiting the prison that conditions weren't perfect but were better than in some other Azerbaijani prisons. She said that protesters had complained about rude treatment by wardens and also demanded an opportunity to freely distribute money among convicts without consulting the wardens.

After meeting with the justice minister, interior minister and chief prosecutor, Suleimanova said authorities would set up a commission to look into the prisoners' complaints.

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