By Ruzanna Stepanian, Ruben Meloyan and Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian told tens of thousands of his supporters Wednesday to continue to challenge the official results of Armenia’s controversial presidential election, dismissing President Robert Kocharian’s threats to end the non-stop demonstrations by force.
In televised comments aired late Tuesday, Kocharian warned that his patience with protesters camped in Yerevan’s Liberty Square is wearing thin. He said Ter-Petrosian’s rallies and overnight vigils have not been sanctioned by the authorities and can therefore be broken up by security forces.
The Armenian police issued a similar warning the next day, saying in a statement that they are determined to “protect the country’s constitutional order and public security.”
Addressing the massive crowd in Liberty Square, Ter-Petrosian claimed that Kocharian has no moral right to attack his opponents because he himself has repeatedly broken law during his decade-long presidency. “Robert Kocharian’s authority has been illegal right from the beginning,” said the former Armenian president. “Under the constitution, he was not even eligible to run for president neither in 1998, nor in 2003.”
“A person who breached the constitution in such a blatant manner can not criticize or threaten anyone,” he added before the crowd marched to the Office of the Prosecutor-General to demand the release of Ter-Petrosian allies arrested by the authorities in recent days.
The protesters also walked past the Russian Embassy in Yerevan, urging Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to back their remands for a re-run of the February 19 presidential election.
In his speech, Ter-Petrosian said that the round-the-clock protests against the alleged falsification of election results are gaining growing momentum but would not say how long he intends to keep his supporters on the streets. “What is happening now is a pure, classic bourgeois democratic revolution to free the economy from a feudal yoke,” he said, adding that his movement is tacitly backed by “thousands of representatives of state structures, ministries and even the presidential staff.”
The Armenian Ministry of Trade and Economic Development said on Wednesday that it has fired two senior ministry officials who openly described the presidential election as fraudulent and voiced support for Ter-Petrosian. The chief of the ministry staff, Emil Tarasian, cited an Armenian law that bans civil servants from engaging in political activities. In an interview with RFE/RL, Tarasian downplayed the officials’ defiant stance, saying that one of them effectively quit the ministry last October while the other is a longtime member of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian Pan-National Movement.
Ter-Petrosian and his most ardent supporters, meanwhile, remained camped in Liberty Square for the eighth consecutive night, dancing to traditional and pop music and warming themselves in tents and around bonfires. The tent camp has visibly grown in recent days. Many of its inhabitants have come from outside Yerevan.
Shortly before midnight opposition activists in charge of security at the overnight vigil detained two young men who they said were agitating for a violent overthrow of the government and secretly recording protesters’ reaction to their calls. The men were said to have confessed being officers of the National Security Service (NSS). They were forcibly taken to a nearby café where Ter-Petrosian was spending time with his close associates. Senior police officers deployed in the square were informed about the incident and arrived at the cafe moments later.
“Tell your boss that you can’t do the job, boy,” David Shahnazarian, a prominent Ter-Petrosian ally who ran the NSS in the early 1990s, scornfully scolded one of the presumed NSS agents as they were led away by the policemen.
“These are agents provocateurs who had special recording equipment on them,” Nikol Pashinian, another opposition leader, told RFE/RL. “They were detected by the rally’s security service. They admitted that the NSS director, Gorik Hakobian, instructed them to organize a provocation aimed at substantiating the government’s coup allegations [levelled against Ter-Petrosian.]”
Ter-Petrosian refused a comment as he walked back into the square and stepped on the podium to again greet the dancing crowd of several thousand people.
(Photolur photo: Ter-Petrosian dances with supporters in Liberty Square.)