Army attacks Azeri rebels

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The Independent Online
Baku (AP) - Troops using grenade launchers yesterday attacked the barracks of a rebel special police force accused of trying to seize power in Azerbaijan. The two sides exchanged fire throughout the night, but the attacked base - on the outskirts of the capital, Baku - was repulsed. There were unconfirmed reports of dead and injured.

"Azerbaijan is again on the verge of civil war," President Geidar Aliyev said in a televised speech. He accused the rebels of trying to overthrow him and vowed to restore order.

The conflict pits Mr Aliyev, the former Communist Party boss of Azerbaijan, against the special police force, which is commanded by two brothers who have long accused the government of corruption. Makhir and Rovshan Dzhavadov are demanding the resignation of Mr Aliyev and the parliament's Speaker, Rasul Guliyev, and want a coalition government.

The 3,000-strong police unit is the best-trained and best-equipped armed group in Azerbaijan and has fought in the country's war against Armenia over the Nagorny Karabakh enclave.

The police staged brief rebellions in Gyandzha, the country's second- largest city, last October. The Prime Minister, Surat Huseinov, a wealthy and powerful warlord, was ousted after being blamed for masterminding the rebellion.

On Tuesday, the Interior Minister, Ramil Usubov, ordered the police to be disbanded. Makhir Dzhavadov refused and troops encircled the police barracks.