By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The streets of Azerbaijan’s northeastern city of Quba appeared calm after security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a protest rally there.
Authorities say four people, including three police officers, were injured in Thursday’s violence. At least one journalist is among those who have been injured in clashes between police and protesters.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Quba to demand the resignation of regional Governor Rauf Habibov.
They broke windows at local government buildings and set fire to a private house thought to belong to Habibov.
There was no announcement that their demand had been met.
See some dramatic footage of the clashes in Quba filmed by RFE/RL correspondents (in Azeri)
Authorities said they now control the situation in the town, where security forces and armored vehicles were on patrol.
They also said that law-enforcement agencies had begun an investigation into the events.
In a joint statement, the General Prosecutor’s Office and the Interior Ministry tried to downplay the events, saying an initially pro-government rally turned violent.
State television and news agencies ignored the incident.
The unrest follows comments from Habibov that appeared on YouTube videos in which he calls Quba residents “traitors.”
Habibov met with the protesters earlier on March 1 and offered apologies, but he rejected demands that he step down.
Protesters set fire to a house
The protest is the largest public demonstration to occur outside Baku since President Ilham Aliyev came to power in 2003. Aliyev and his father, the late President Heydar Aliyev, have both touted perceived stability that their rule has brought to the energy-rich Caucasian country.
“He insulted the people of Quba!” one protester told RFE/RL. “He accused us of treason. Quba residents have always supported our state.”
In his speech earlier this week, Habibov accused Quba residents of selling their “land, families and motherland” for as little as $40. Some local residents were given land by authorities as part of an ongoing agricultural reform, but many are too poor to cultivate them.
“Quba is a very rich place. Everyone tries to get a place here,” Habibov says in the video. “Some men become famous with good deeds, others with bad ones. The Quba people have sold out Quba. The Quba people have sold their lands for 30 or 40 manats (around $40). Quba has been sold by the ungrateful men of Quba. The men of Quba have sold their nation, their lands, their families.”
Quba is home to 160,000 people.
The Public Chamber opposition coalition condemned the use of force against protesters and said the unrest was a result of the government’s “anti-people” policy.
A group on Facebook has called on Azerbaijanis to demonstrate across the nation on March 2 in support of the Quba protesters.