By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Gevorg Stamboltsian
The Armenian opposition hit back at President Robert Kocharian on Wednesday over his accusations of treason and renewed derogatory attacks directed at its leaders.
Visiting Armenia’s second city of Gyumri on Tuesday, said his opponents’ mostly successful efforts to provoke the Council of Europe’s criticism of his government’s controversial response to the recent opposition demonstrations was “close to treason” as they damaged the country’s international reputation. Kocharian also laughed off the continuing opposition drive to force his resignation.
“I don’t watch Brazilian soap operas,” he said in televised remarks. “And because they really resemble [the opposition rallies] I have no time and interest to familiarize myself with that.”
The statement was condemned by the opposition leaders, with Stepan Demirchian of the Artarutyun alliance saying that it was “devoid of ethics.” “Treason is falsifying elections, beating up peaceful demonstrators and infringing on the people’s will,” he told RFE/RL.
“The opposition has a clear idea of its goals and will always rely on our people,” Demirchian added.
Another prominent opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, was even more scathing about Kocharian’s attacks. “If the head of state doesn’t read books…and is friends with gambling-loving ministers, he will inevitably use such language,” he told several hundred supporters in Gavar, the administrative center of the eastern Gegharkunik province.
Geghamian was campaigning in the area in an apparent effort to boost attendance at the next rally in Yerevan which is due to held by his National Unity Party (AMK) and Artarutyun on Friday. The two groups have said that the protest could lead to another “decisive” action outside Kocharian’s residence.
“We are staying put and awaiting your orders,” one resident of a local village told Geghamian.
The AMK leader said the opposition campaign, viewed as unconstitutional by the authorities, will succeed if at least 200,000 people take to the streets. But he skirted locals’ questions about how they can attend the rallies if the authorities again block access to the capital.
Geghamian’s rally in Gavar was nearly disrupted by the local police chief Manvel Shahinian who claimed that he needs a permission from the local government under Armenia’s new law on public gatherings. “Let him meet voters not in the square but indoors. A mass gathering has not been allowed,” Shahinian told a group of opposition supporters who turned up to welcome Geghamian.
The law in question stipulates that the authorities can ban a street protest only after receiving a written notification from its organizers.