By Emil Danielyan
Prosecutors said on Monday that they have launched criminal proceedings against one of the government loyalists who assaulted a bodyguard and supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian during a campaign rally in southern Armenia.
The move ran counter to the initial official version of the most serious instance of violence registered during the presidential election campaign.
A spokeswoman for Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian said a resident of Artashat, Armen Mirzoyan, hurled stones at participants of the February 6 rally in the town 30 kilometers south of Yerevan and beat up the Ter-Petrosian bodyguard. She said Mirzoyan was formally charged on Saturday with disrupting public order and showing “disrespect towards the public” by violent means.
The rally nearly descended into chaos as a group of aggressive youths tried to pick fights with Ter-Petrosian loyalists and threw stones and other objects at them. According to eyewitnesses, among them two RFE/RL correspondents, the violence began after supporters of the opposition presidential candidate led away a female heckler from the crowd. The thugs went on to attack the deputy chief of Ter-Petrosian’s security service.
Both the Armenian police and the Office of the Prosecutor-General have said that Ter-Petrosian himself provoked the violence with his derogatory attacks on Hovik Abrahamian, the deputy prime minister and Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s campaign manager who holds sway in Artashat. The law-enforcement bodies also dismissed as “slander” reports that the crowd was pelted with stones.
They changed the official version of events and brought the criminal case against the government loyalist two days after those reports were effectively confirmed by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
In a separate statement on Monday, Hovsepian said law-enforcement authorities will counter any attempts to falsify the Tuesday’s election. “Our law-enforcement system has the determination, the will and the ability to fight against possible vote falsifications, violations of law aimed at disrupting the electoral process, protecting public order and constitutional order,” he said.
Hovsepian also said that a special anti-fraud task force formed by him last month has looked into all reports of election-related violations coming from opposition candidates and media. He claimed last week that those reports are “infested with lies.”