(Reuters) – France’s demand for the release a French citizen detained in Azerbaijan on suspicion of espionage is another attempt by Paris to interfere in Azeri internal affairs, the country’s foreign minister said in a statement published on Wednesday.

“The claims by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs that the detention of their citizen is arbitrary have no basis,” the ministry said on its Telegram messaging app.

“This baseless statement is another attempt to distort the reality, and intervene into the internal affairs of Azerbaijan and the legal investigation process.”

France accused Azerbaijan on Tuesday of holding the French national arbitrarily and demanded his immediate release after Baku’s envoy to France said the man had been arrested.

“We categorically reiterate our rejection of the allegations presented by Azerbaijan to justify its hostile actions towards us,” France’s foreign ministry said in response to the Wednesday’s Azeri statement.

Ties between the two countries have been strained in recent months and have worsened since Azerbaijan took control of the Nagorno-Karabakh region in September.

“We once again strongly urge the French side to cease the intervention into the internal affairs of Azerbaijan and the criminal investigation measures related the mentioned case,” the Azeri ministry said in its statement.

(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova; Writing by Lidia Kelly in Melbourne; Editing by Michael Perry and Tomasz Janowski)

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