A man who brutally murdered a sleeping student with an axe has returned home to a hero’s welcome in Azerbaijan, sparking fears that peace talks between Armenia and his native country could be jeopardised.
It took only a few minutes for celebrations honouring Ramil Safarov, an Azeri serviceman, to commence after he arrived home last Friday.
Safarov’s celebrated status in Azerbaijan is due to the Armenian nationality of his victim, a fellow student in a NATO-sponsored English class in Hungary.
The victim was sleeping in his dormitory room one night in 2004 when Safarov, carrying an axe, crept in and hacked him to death.
As well as an official pardon from President Ilham Aliyev, Safarov has been promoted, given a flat and awarded the back-pay he had lost since his arrest eight years ago.
The reaction to Safarov's reception has embarrassed Hungary, which agreed to extradite him on the assumption he would serve at least 25 years of a life sentence.
It has set off protests in Budapest and enraged Armenia, where activists pelted the Hungarian embassy with eggs and burned Hungarian flags.
Russia also condemned Azerbaijan's decision to pardon Ramil Safarov.
Other groups called for calm and said the incident should not wreck peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
Safarov told the police his Armenian classmate, Gurgen Markarian, had insulted him repeatedly.
During his trial in Hungary, Safarov also claimed that the Azeri-Armenian war over Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s contributed towards his actions.