MOSCOW -- Officials of the ruling party in Azerbaijan said on Friday that the police had restored order in the city of Ismayilli after two days of rioting and calls for the local governor to resign. Local residents, however, said the police were still making arrests and the city remained on the brink of martial law.
The episode began late Wednesday night as a brawl over a traffic accident in Ismayilli, a resort town about 100 miles west of the country's capital, Baku. But it quickly transformed into a volatile political protest, as a mob of several thousand burned down a hotel, then set siege to a regional official's house.
On Thursday, a combined force of local and national police officers used water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd. The police refused on Friday to say how many arrests had been made, but local news reports said at least 50 people had been detained.
The protest was a rare explosion of uncontrolled frustration in Azerbaijan, an oil-producing country on the Caspian Sea, where politics are dominated by President Ilham Aliyev, and even relatively small street demonstrations often prompt heavy-handed responses from riot police officers.
Mubaiz Gurbanli, deputy chairman of the majority New Azerbaijan Party, sought to downplay the significance of the riots in an interview on Friday.
"This was not a revolt," he said, adding that the protests were driven by "emotional" young men. "This was a local incident and that does not reflect the situation in the whole of Azerbaijan."
Residents of Ismayilli said they were fed up with cronyism among regional officials and growing income inequality between locals and businessmen from the capital.
"Half of Ismayilli belongs to the governor and his family, they do whatever they want," said Leyla, 22, in a telephone interview from the city where her family owns a business.
"The city is full of military," she said. "It is like Ismayilli is at war."
The rioting began late Wednesday evening after Emil Shamsaddinov, a businessman from Baku who owns a hotel in the city, and another man attacked a local taxi driver after a traffic accident, the police said.
A crowd of several thousand residents quickly formed in support of the taxi driver and set fire to Mr. Shamsaddinov's hotel, which was also rumored to house a brothel belonging to the regional governor, Nizami Alekperov.
Later, the crowd burned several motorcycles outside the home of Mr. Alekperov's son. One protester said the crowd stopped short of burning down the residence only because it had run out of gasoline.
The following day, hundreds of protesters regrouped near the governor's house, and video taken by local media showed police officers using armored vehicles with water cannons as well as shooting canisters of gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.
The melee carried echoes of a 2012 protest after a regional governor called his constituents "sellouts" in a televised interview. Thousands of protesters surrounded the official's home, and in a rare concession, the official was forced to step down.
By contrast, Mr. Alekperov told journalists on Thursday that he would not resign. "One cannot politicize a conflict between two people over an automobile accident," he said.
Irana Abdullayeva, 20, said she traveled to Ismayilli after learning that a cousin, Jeyhun, had been arrested. In a telephone interview from the jail where her cousin was being held, she said the police had barred relatives from carrying in cellphones to prevent audio or video recordings.
"I hear weird screams," she said. "It seems that they are being beaten. Also, I hear them being cursed at."
Andrew Roth reported from Moscow, and Shahla Sultanova from Ismayilli, Azerbaijan.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.