By Astghik Bedevian and Karine Kalantarian
Levon Ter-Petrosian continued to rally thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Monday despite the arrest of at least two more loyalists of the former Armenian president and the forcible closure of his campaign offices across the country.
Ter-Petrosian told the crowd in the city’s Liberty Square in the evening that the Armenian police have moved to disarm his bodyguards without any explanation. He said that senior police officers have told the bodyguards to surrender their guns but that the latter refused to do that, citing a law that entitles the ex-president to armed protection. All of the bodyguards are believed to be employees of a state security service which protects President Robert Kocharian and other Armenian leaders.
Earlier in the day, law-enforcement authorities arrested two opposition figures who were in charge of Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign in Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri. A spokeswoman for the Office of the Prosecutor-General said Petros Makeyan, the leader of a small opposition party, and Ashot Zakarian, head of the local branch of the Yerkrapah Union of war veterans, are suspected of “obstructing the work” of election official at a polling station in Gyumri on election day.
Makeyan’s lawyer, Tigran Ter-Yesayan, dismissed the claims, saying that his client and Zakarian visited the polling station after a Ter-Petrosian proxy there reported serious fraud. He said they simply protested against the precinct commission chairman’s refusal to record the alleged violation.
Three other Ter-Petrosian allies -- former Deputy Prosecutor-General Gagik Jahangirian, Nor Zhamanakner party leader Aram Karapetian and the Hanrapetutyun party’s Smbat Ayvazian -- were arrested over the weekend. None of them was formally charged with any crime as of late Monday. Law-enforcement authorities have so far said only that they found weapons in the cars belonging to the three men without specifying whether those were possessed illegally. A Nor Zhamanakner spokesman told RFE/RL that the police searched the party’s Yerevan office and confiscated its computers.
Also detained were several bodyguards of Khachatur Sukiasian, a parliament deputy and businessman close to the former president. The police did not give any reasons for the detention, saying only that they found two handguns, ammunition and several flak jackets in their SUVs.
The police also confirmed on Sunday they have begun sealing off Ter-Petrosian’s campaign offices across the country. A spokesman said this is being done to prevent a “destabilization of the political situation.”
According to Ter-Petrosian’s spokesman Arman Musinian, several police officers tried to shut down on Monday afternoon the ex-president’s campaign headquarters in downtown Yerevan. He said they left the premises after failing to produce a written court authorization of their actions.
The opposition presidential candidate has condemned the widening crackdown on his loyalists as politically motivated. Addressing supporters in Liberty Square, he pledged to continue to fight for the scrapping of the official results of the February 19 presidential election that gave victory to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. His campaign manager, Aleksandr Arzumanian, confirmed that the Ter-Petrosian campaign will challenge those results in the Constitutional Court.
Ter-Petrosian also renewed his calls for university students to boycott classes. “Everything depends on you,” he said. “Wait for one or two weeks. Do not go to your universities. Your university is Liberty Square.”
In a related development, the Ter-Petrosian aides announced that two more senior government officials have joined the ex-president’s movement by branding the presidential ballot fraudulent. The officials, Vahagn Ghazarian and Zohrap Hovannisian, run departments at the Ministry of Trade and Economic Development dealing with Armenia’s commercial relations with the World Trade Organization, the European Union and other countries.