By Karine Kalantarian
The campaign headquarters of opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian said on Saturday that more than a hundred of his supporters were arrested overnight for attending Friday’s big anti-government rally in Yerevan. Demirchian, who is due to face President Robert Kocharian in the March 5 runoff, condemned the arrests, accusing the incumbent of illegally clinging to power.
The deputy chief of the Armenian Police, General Hovannes Varian, confirmed the information, but said only between 40 and 50 individuals were held for committing “hooligan acts” during the rally that was not sanctioned by the city authorities. A judge at a court in central Yerevan said that an unspecified number of individuals went on trial there for their participation in the rally.
Demirchian aides said many of the detainees are the candidates’ election proxies who monitored Wednesday’s first-round voting in those polling stations where a recount is due to take place. According to them, four of their activists in Masis, a town near Yerevan, have already been given 15-day prison sentences.
The Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party led by former Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian also reported arrests of its senior members in the southern Armavir and Ararat provinces. A senior member of Hanrapetutyun, Aramazd Zakarian, said their brief trials took place behind the closed doors. One of Demirchian’s top proxies, Ashot Sargsian, wrote to the Central Election Commission, asking it to tell the authorities to “stop the illegalities.”
“Instead of strictly punishing those who falsified the elections, they arrest participants of our rallies,” Demirchian told RFE/RL. “This is the essence of this illegitimate regime.”
“Robert Kocharian is trying to seize power with violence,” he charged. “But he is doomed because the people have already made a choice.”
Demirchian and other opposition leaders denounced the arrests in a joint statement issued later in the day. “We remind that the attempts to usurp power is a grave crime. Robert Kocharian will bear responsibility for its consequences,” the statement said.
According to preliminary results of the election, Kocharian won just under 50 percent of the vote, failing to top the threshold required to win outright. Demirchian was put in second place with about 28 percent.
Demirchian and his opposition allies claim to have won far more votes and demand that all ballots cast be recounted. Tens of thousands of their supporters marched through Yerevan yesterday to denounce alleged widespread fraud.
Demirchian, however, indicated that he will stand in the second round. “It’s obvious that Robert Kocharian lost in the first round, and it’s obvious that he will lose in the second round too,” he claimed.
Kocharian and his supporters insist that the February 19 vote was generally free and fair, denying the fraud allegations.