Azeris Vow to Restore Order as U.S., Rights Group Urge Restraint

Azeri authorities pledged “decisive” steps to maintain public order after the energy-rich former Soviet republic suffered two days of riots last week as Amnesty International condemned a government crackdown.

Sixty-two people were detained after residents of the northwestern town of Ismayilli torched a hotel and several cars and damaged the local governor’s house, the Interior Ministry and the Prosecutor General’s Office said today in an e-mailed statement. Ten people were held custody, with 23 others receiving short prison terms, according to the statement.

Amnesty International said it was concerned about reports that several people arrested following the unrest have been tortured and mistreated while in custody. The U.S. ambassador to Azerbaijan, Richard Morningstar, urged the authorities to address what he described as people’s legitimate grievances.

“We are calling for an immediate, impartial and effective investigation into any such complaints,” John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International’s director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement on the London-based watchdog’s website.

Ismayilli is about 200 kilometers (124 miles) northwest of the capital, Baku, near the Russian border. It’s the second time in less than a year that Azeris rioted against local authorities. Similar protests in the northern Quba District last March resulted in the dismissal of the local governor.

Four people were sentenced to 13 to 15 days in prison and 25 others were fined as much as $3,200 for attending a protest in Baku that was dispersed by riot police and plainclothes security officers.

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