Azerbaijan protests ‘barbaric’ flag-burning at weightlifting championship in Armenia

BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan launched a strong protest on Saturday after its national flag was seized and set on fire during the opening ceremony of a weightlifting championship in neighboring Armenia.

Azerbaijan said it had become impossible for its athletes to compete in the championships and they had already left Armenia to travel home via Georgia.

Video of the incident showed a man snatching and lighting the flag, prompting an angry joint statement from Azerbaijan’s Ministry of Youth and Sports and its National Olympic Committee.

They condemned it as a “barbaric act” and evidence of ethnic hatred and racism, saying Armenia was unable to ensure the safety of athletes and host international sporting events.

Armenia dismissed those criticisms, saying the incident was resolved quickly and without danger to competitors at the European Weightlifting Championships.

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The two countries have had hostile relations since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, of which they both were part. In that time they have fought two major wars over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan but inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians. Seven soldiers have been killed in fighting over the past week.

The Russian news agency RIA Novosti quoted a lawyer for the man allegedly involved in the flag incident as saying he had been released without charge.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Mark Trevelyan; Editing by David Holmes)

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