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Reuters: Assassination Attempt and Protest Send Warning to Azerbaijan's Rulers

An assassination attempt and protest in Azerbaijan’s second city have sent a warning to the ruling elite that discontent is simmering in the tightly controlled, oil-producing state.

Police have arrested a local man over the attack in which Elmar Veliyev, mayor of the northwestern city of Gyanja, was shot and wounded in front of his office on July 3.

Interior Ministry officials say the suspect, Yunis Safarov, has ties to a militant group that wants to establish Islamist rule in Azerbaijan, a secular state where most people are Shi’ite Muslims, and that he trained with militants in Syria. They have cited no sources for the information.

But some Gyanja residents challenge the ministry’s version of events. They suggest Safarov was motivated by revenge for what they see as Veliyev’s mistreatment of Gyanja residents and disrespect for their religious views.

In a rare outbreak of violence against officialdom in the South Caucasus nation, two police officers were stabbed to death in clashes when a protest over Safarov’s arrest and unofficial reports that he was beaten in custody turned violent on July 10. A third, Samir Bayramov, was wounded.

Azerbaijan, a majority Muslim country of about 10 million, has grown wealthy from oil and natural gas since it declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Protests are rare and are put down quickly.

But while money has flowed into sprucing up Baku, opponents of President Ilham Aliyev say few have seen major benefits from the oil wealth, especially people outside the capital, and accuse his government of suppressing human rights and stifling democracy.

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