Authorities in Azerbaijan have managed to contain protests over declining living standards – for now. But with government finances in a precarious state, and the economy rapidly deteriorating, government critics are wondering how long the lid can remain on discontent?
The coastal town of Siyazan, situated roughly 64 miles (103 kilometers) north of the capital, Baku, was the scene of the most intense protests on January 12-13, with 55 arrests being made there.
These days, one can see a police officer standing beneath just about every street light in the center of town, which has roughly 40,000 inhabitants. On the outskirts, a joint military-police post stands barricaded by sandbags, and authorities check every car entering or leaving town.
People congregating near taxi stands or elsewhere in the center tend to disperse at the sight of a policeman. Some town residents are still being arrested. Yet while police can prevent crowds from forming, they are not able to stop people from engaging in impromptu conversations with each other in public spaces about rising prices, joblessness and other sources of economic distress.
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Durna Safarova and Islam Shikhali are freelance reporters who specialize in writing about developments in Azerbaijan.