Azerbaijan fire deaths prompt 'flammable cladding' protest

Media caption,
The fire quickly swept through the 16-story apartment building

Thousands of people in Azerbaijan have protested on social media at the use of flammable building cladding after a deadly fire at an apartment block.

Fifteen people were killed and dozens more were injured in the blaze at the 16-storey block in the capital, Baku.

Several thousand said they would attend a protest on Wednesday but only around 100 people turned up.

Officials blamed the "low quality of plastic siding" on the building and said an investigation had begun.

Helicopters were scrambled as emergency crews fought to bring the blaze under control on Tuesday.

Local media said children were among those killed and one victim died after leaping from the building.

Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
The building's facade was decimated by the fire


The head of the construction company deemed responsible was detained after the fire.

Meanwhile, opposition website Meydan TV posted an archive photo on its Facebook page showing President Ilham Aliyev inaugurating the Global Construction company's factory that reportedly manufactured the panels.

Fifteen thousand people responded to a Facebook invitation to "remember the people [who died] and demand the punishment of the culprits" but the page was taken down on Wednesday morning.

Some social media users also denounced calls for people to dismantle the cladding themselves.

At the scene - Naila Hasanova, BBC Azeri

Image caption,
Police looked on as protesters gathered close to the building

Dozens of police watched the area as more than 100 people took part in a protest.

Police reacted violently towards at least one person, who was chanting, "Dismantle the cladding, remove the masks, people wake up!"

Flowers were laid near the burnt out building.

One of its residents spoke out, calling on the mayor to resign and for those responsible to be punished.

Image source, EPA
Image caption,
Angry Azeris argued with firefighters and police at the scene

Baku has undergone an extensive urban redevelopment programme in the past few years as ex-Soviet Azerbaijan reaps the benefits of oil and gas profits.

The city of some two million people has seen crumbling Communist-era blocks and early 20th-Century tenement buildings torn down to make way for glitzy skyscrapers.

The radical overhaul by the authorities has sparked protests from rights activists who accuse the government of forcibly evicting residents without proper compensation.

The fire deaths come just weeks before the start of the 2015 European Games, which will be held in Baku between 12-28 June.

The local organising committee has spent billions of pounds on Games infrastructure, including a new 68,000-capacity athletics stadium, and international-standard aquatics, gymnastics, BMX and shooting venues.

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