Police have used force to disperse people blocking a road in central Azerbaijan, in protest against long-running water shortages in the region.
Around 200 residents of the villages of Orta Mugan, Cholpi, and Khanlar in Saatli district are reported to have blocked a road around noon on Monday, before being met with violent crowd-dispersal measures.
Speaking to local media, one resident claimed that the confrontation began when police attempted to stop protesters crossing a nearby bridge.
‘The police used tear gas and rubber bullets’, an unnamed participant told Abzas. ‘Two people, including a 15-year-old boy, were seriously injured. They shot four rubber bullets in the child’s left chest. Both were taken by ambulance. War veterans were arrested.’
Those protesting described a critical shortage of water for both drinking and agriculture. The shortage has reportedly been ongoing for multiple years, forcing residents to travel to the neighbouring Sabirabad District to buy drinking water, and severely limiting people’s ability to farm.
‘Here, the thirst is so extreme that life is almost impossible. Last year, the state sent water by lorry, and they sold water for ₼15–₼20 ($9–$12) [for a large canister], this year it has not arrived at all. I have been buying drinking water for three years. I fill the water tank twice a month, which costs ₼30 ($18).’
Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry spokesperson told BBC Azerbaijan that protesters had engaged in ‘illegal actions aimed at disrupting public order’ by not complying with police requests, subsequent to which they were detained.
A protester disputed this claim, telling Abzas that protesters had not resisted police.
Videos on social media show confrontations between a group of protesters and police officers. In one, a person is seen lying on the ground, apparently wounded, as shots are heard.
Azerbaijan’s Interior Ministry spokesperson wrote that claims that weapons were used against protesters were ‘groundless’, while also stating that police had used ‘special measures’ only against those protesters who had not complied with police demands.