Protesters held in Azerbaijan before song contest

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By PETER LEONARD, Associated Press

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Dozens of anti-government protesters were detained by police Friday in this former Soviet nation as it prepares to host the finals of the Eurovision song contest.

Around 25 people were dragged away by police as they gathered at a spot close to where the contest finals are to be held over the weekend in the capital, Baku.

Police grabbed the scattered demonstrators as they chanted the word "freedom" and stuffed them into waiting buses. One detainee stuck his fists out of a bus window and kept chanting.

An Associated Press reporter saw police shoving and roughing up detainees inside the buses.

Oil-rich Azerbaijan is capitalizing on Eurovision to boost its image as an increasingly prosperous emerging economy. Local activists have seized on the increased international media presence to draw attention to the government's authoritarian leanings.

Azerbaijan Interior Ministry spokesman Ehsan Zahid described the rally Friday as a disruption of public order.

"An attempt was thwarted by a group of youths to disrupt the public order," Zahid said. "Some of them were issued warnings."

Zahid said the demonstrators were moved to another location and later released.

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