Azerbaijan jails opposition activists over protest

Azerbaijan has sentenced three opposition activists to ten days in jail after they tried to hold a protest at the site of a car crash involving a government soldier, the interior ministry said Friday.

The activists from opposition group Musavat, along with one local resident, were arrested Thursday in the town of Khudat -- some 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of Baku -- after a fight broke out following a collision between a car driven by a border guard and that of a local man.

"The opposition members called on local residents at the scene of the accident to carry out an unlawful action, violating the public order and rule of law," the interior ministry said in a statement.

"These people were sentenced by the court to ten days of administrative arrest," the statement said.

In January a minor car crash and subsequent fight that allegedly involved the relative of a local official sparked riots in another town that saw cars and several buildings torched.

Police used rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon to break up the demonstrations and arrested scores of protestors. The country's sidelined opposition denied government claims that they were behind the protests.

The mass anti-government riots were among the most serious outbreaks of unrest in the tightly-controlled Caspian state in years.

Azerbaijani security forces have since then brutally suppressed several more demonstrations including one over alleged hazing in the army and arrested dozens more protestors.

Any display of public discontent and political dissent usually meets a tough government reaction in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich ex-Soviet state ruled by strongman President Ilham Aliyev.

Aliyev's government has long been accused of stifling free speech, jailing opponents and crushing dissent.

Aliyev faces presidential elections in October, in a vote that he looks certain to win.