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Azerbaijan hikes military spending to $3.7B as tensions persist with neighboring Armenia

Azerbaijan's president has announced a sharp hike in military spending and again warned neighboring Armenia to pull out of the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory.

President Ilkham Aliyev said in remarks published Wednesday in state newspapers that this year's defense budget will rise to $3.7 billion, up from $3 billion last year.

Annual military spending increases have taken place amid persisting tensions between Azerbaijan and fellow former Soviet republic Armenia. Border skirmishes are relatively common, but there has been no return to the full-out conflict of the 1990s.

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday in the capital, Baku, in protest at the death this month of an 18-year old conscript. Demonstrators said he died as a result of abuse.

In remarks addressed at the domestic opposition, Aliyev warned against smearing Azerbaijan's army.