Baku hosts Europa League Final amid strong police presence
Azerbaijan's capital city, full of police, played host to the UEFA Europe League final between UK teams Chelsea and Arsenal. Chelsea took home the cup with a 4-1 victory.
While Baku had braced for an influx of foreign tourists, the most noticeable feature downtown was not red or blue jerseys but groups of police at almost every corner.
While many European fans found the journey to Baku too long to be worth the trip, and the number of fans who arrived was lower than expected, Azerbaijan was still intent on making sure everything went according to plan.
Part of this plan was apparently putting what seems to be every last one of Baku's finest, known for human rights abuses including torture, on the streets. According to Baku residents, the number of police was much higher than usual leading up to and during the match.
This increase in presence has put a spotlight on the Baku police, however, as foreign outlets picked up on a video of a tourist wearing a Mkhitaryan Arsenal jersey being stopped by a Baku police officer.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Arsenal player and Armenian national captain, had chosen not to attend the final, citing safety concerns due to the ongoing conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh.
Arsenal went on to lose the final to Chelsea after a lackluster performance.
As for the police on the streets, it seemed like the end of the match also meant the end of shift; small groups of police began leaving the crowded waterfront.
Some of them no longer wearing their full uniforms, and bags of sandwiches in their hands, they sauntered to their cars while chatting. They will have a break until next year, when Baku hosts not one, but four Euro 2020 matches, including a quarterfinal.
Until then, the police presence will surely die down, however, it is unlikely that the human rights abuses infamous in Azerbaijan, which were not on display this week, will dissipate as well.
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