MOSCOW -- The authorities in Azerbaijan arrested two prominent opposition politicians this week and charged them with inciting last month's riots in a provincial city, which began after a street fight and swelled into a volatile three-day demonstration denouncing local officials.
The two politicians -- Tofiq Yaqublu, the deputy chairman of one of Azerbaijan's largest opposition parties, Musavat, and Ilgar Mammadov, the head of the Republican Alternative, a political organization, -- were arrested on Monday, and are expected to be detained for two months. No trial date has been set.
Opposition leaders said the arrests were politically motivated, and the United States Embassy in Baku, the capital, issued a statement on Wednesday calling for "transparency and fairness" in the investigation and said it was concerned about the arrests.
Protests in the city of Ismayilli, a resort town about 100 miles west of Baku, began on Jan. 23 and reached their apex the next day when a crowd of several thousand surrounded a local governor's house and called for his resignation. The police arrested more than 50 people during the demonstrations and used tear gas and a water cannon to disperse the crowd.
The two opposition leaders visited Ismayilli to speak with demonstrators after the protests had ended and were in the city for just one hour, Arif Hajili, a senior member of Musavat, said at a news conference on Tuesday.
"I do not think it was organized," Mr. Hajili was quoted as saying by the Azerbaijan Press Agency. "This is the sudden expression of the people's discontent. Therefore, these arrests are entirely illegal."
Azerbaijan is seen as a strategic ally of increasing importance for the West, both as a transit point for troops and equipment in Afghanistan and as a conduit for energy supplies to Europe.
"We encourage meaningful dialogue between the Azerbaijani government and its citizens to address legitimate grievances and also urge authorities to respect citizens' freedom of assembly and expression," the American Embassy said in its statement.
Shahla Sultanova contributed reporting from Baku, Azerbaijan.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.