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Former Azerbaijani Minister Arrested

October 20, 2005

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) _ Azerbaijan’s economic development minister, who was fired earlier this week, has been arrested on suspicion of conspiring with an exiled opposition leader to carry out a coup, officials said Thursday.

President Ilham Aliev dismissed Economic Development Minister Farhad Aliev, who is no relation, from his post on Wednesday. No reason for the dismissal had been given.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the Prosecutor General’s office, Interior Ministry and National Security Ministry said that Aliev was suspected of conspiring with exiled opposition leader Rasul Guliyev to forcibly seize power in the Caspian Sea country.

Guliyev had said he would return to Azerbaijan this past Monday after a decade in self-imposed exile, and Azerbaijani authorities had vowed to arrest him on already existing embezzlement charges.

But Guliyev was detained in Ukraine on Monday during a refueling stop. Ukrainian officials said they had taken him into custody on a warrant from Interpol. Ukraine freed Guliyev from custody on Thursday, the Interfax news agency reported.

Farhad Aliev was also detained on suspicion of embezzlement and misappropriation of funds, the joint statement said.

Aliev’s brother, Rafik, who heads the Azpetrol oil company, was detained Wednesday, said Arif Babayev, a spokesman for the National Security Ministry. He wouldn’t give any reason for the arrest or offer any other details.

News of the arrest came amid spiraling tensions around next month’s vote. Opposition parties have been holding rallies in the capital, Baku, nearly every weekend, accusing the government of plotting to rig the elections, and police have violently broken up recent attempts to defy a ban on downtown protests.

Authorities are concerned that Azerbaijan could see a mass uprising similar to those that followed elections in other post-Soviet states over the past two years, including Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

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