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European Games Open in Azerbaijan Amid Controversy

EXCERPT

More than 6,000 athletes from 50 countries converged Friday for the opening ceremonies of the inaugural European Games at Olympic Stadium in Azerbaijan's capital, Baku.

Azerbaijani officials are hoping the biggest athletic event in the country's history, two weeks of competition involving 20 sports to be broadcast in 45 countries in Europe and 98 non-European nations, will put the former Soviet republic on the 21st century map. Some of the sports will serve as qualifiers for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

But the games are taking place under a cloud of controversy because of Azerbaijan's record of suppressing democracy and free speech and cracking down on journalists, activists and opponents of the autocratic regime of President Ilham Aliyev.