Baku Games to open under shadow of alleged crackdown: Reuters

Azerbaijan has spared no expense in staging the inaugural European Games, which will get underway on Friday with a lavish opening ceremony, but the event has also turned the spotlight on its human rights record, Reuters writes.

The energy-rich nation on the Caspian Sea has spent more than a billion dollars to stage its biggest sports extravaganza to date, according to officials, building several dazzling venues from scratch for the 16-day competition.

The Games, featuring about 6,000 athletes from 50 nations, have however failed to attract the biggest track and field athletes and swimmers. Instead, lower-ranked competitors will take part in two of the most popular sports in the Olympic world.

Officials have said some 35 leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, will be at the ceremony at the brand new Olympic Stadium, which will host just two days of competitions in total.

But money is obviously no object for the Azeri government and its president Ilham Aliyev, eager to lay the foundations for a highly likely Olympics bid in the future.

Organisers hope Friday’s opening ceremony, deploying some 2,000 participants, will mark the beginning of a successful event that will strengthen the country’s position in the international sports world, just as Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have done before them in recent years.

But the government, which has banned officials from human rights organisations as well as some media from entering the country, has faced accusations of consistent human rights violations since it was awarded the Games in 2012.

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