This article was updated at 9:40 PM EST on January 24, 2013.
An auto wreck reportedly involving the son of a powerful politician sparked a rampage by residents in a provincial center in Azerbaijan. The incident suggests that Azerbaijan – an energy-rich Caspian Basin state, and a place where a small coterie around President Ilham Aliyev controls most economic opportunities while steadily restricting civil rights – could be heading toward a bursting point.
Rioting erupted in Ismayilli, a regional center roughly 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) northwest of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, during the night of January 23. Law enforcement officials struggled to contain the violence, and it wasn’t until massive reinforcements arrived from neighboring areas that order was restored during the late afternoon of January 24. According to eyewitness accounts, several waves of clashes occurred, and police used tear gas and rubber bullets against rioters. Police cars also used megaphones to broadcast calls for crowds to disperse. In response protesters chanted “Resign” and “Freedom,” while hurling rocks and brickbats at police.
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Shahin Abbasov is a freelance reporter based in Baku.