By Hrach Melkumian
The Armenian opposition vowed Friday to revive its campaign for President Robert Kocharian’s impeachment as thousands of its supporters again marched through central Yerevan. It was the latest in a series of street protests sparked off by the closure of the independent A1+ channel.
The demonstration went ahead despite a government warning that it was not sanctioned by city authorities and was therefore illegal. Leaders of 13 opposition parties that organized it said they ignored summonses from state prosecutors who wanted them to sign documents certifying that they are aware of legal consequences of defying the ban. They pointed to a constitutional clause guaranteeing freedom of assembly.
Stepan Demirchian, the popular leader of the People’s Party of Armenia, charged that the ruling regime itself has committed many “illegalities” and is mired in corruption. Vazgen Manukian, the leader of another major opposition party, the National Democratic Union, said Kocharian has missed an “historic chance” to ensure Armenia’s democratization and economic development during his four-year presidency.
The chairman of the Hanrapetutyun party, Albert Bazeyan, said the opposition coalition will next week try to force the parliament to bring impeachment proceedings against Kocharian on charges of violating the Armenian constitution. He said the opposition set off a nationwide campaign of “civil disobedience” if the effort fails.
The National Assembly which is largely loyal to Kocharian already thwarted a similar opposition campaign last autumn.
Carrying Armenian red-blue-orange flags and anti-presidential slogans, the demonstrators booed and whistled as they walked past the parliament building and the official residence of Kocharian who had just returned from a tour of South America. Riot police units deployed around the presidential palace looked on as the angry crowd marched back to the city’s Freedom Square, the starting point of the rally.
From a big screen installed at the square the protesters were shown the recording of the A1+ station’s popular news program as a token of solidarity with its editorial staff. Bazeyan said the screenings will be held on a daily basis from now on.
The popular A1+ channel was forced off the air on April 2 after losing a controversial bidding for its air frequency. A presidentially appointed commission on broadcasting gave the tender to an entertainment company with reported government links. The A1+ journalists claim that the decision was orchestrated by Kocharian, a charge denied by the latter.