By Ruzanna Khachatrian, Astghik Bedevian and Emil Danielyan
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian was reportedly placed under house arrest early Saturday after the Armenian police and other security services used force to disperse his supporters camped in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
According to eyewitnesses, scores of police, interior troops and other security forces surrounded the square at around 7 a.m. and began dispersing the small crowd, using truncheons, tear gas and electric-shock equipment. Dozens of demonstrators and security officers were said to have been injured in the violent scene which apparently lasted for about 30 minutes.
There were unconfirmed reports of mass arrests of opposition leaders and activists. Some leaders apparently went into hiding
Ter-Petrosian his bodyguards remained in the square flooded riot police as of 8 a.m., “I am now arrested,” he told RFE/RL. “My freedom is restricted.”
“They want me to go but I told them that I won’t leave this square unless they handcuff me and show an arrest warrant,” he said.
One of his close associates, Aleksandr Arzumanian, told RFE/RL shortly afterwards that Ter-Petrosian was forcibly led away from the square and is now under house arrest.
Law-enforcement authorities did not immediately comment on the break-up of the protest. The operation appeared to have been led by the Grisha Sarkisian, chief of the State Protection Service, which is in charge of President Robert Kocharian’s personal security, and Nerses Nazarian, the Yerevan police chief. Both men were in the square after it was cleared of the protesters. Sarkisian told RFE/RL that Ter-Petrosian was never detained by his men.
The square and the entire area around it were cordoned off by hundreds of police and interior troops. Groups of angry Ter-Petrosian supporters could been seen standing in nearby sidewalks and watching the security forces dismantle a tent camp set up by the opposition leader in the square the day after Armenia’s disputed presidential election.
One such group numbering about 50 people was attacked and dispersed by the baton-wielding police. An old woman was nearly electrocuted by a senior police officer as the fled the scene.
Many of those people were in the square when the crowd dispersal began. “They beat people relentlessly,” said one man. “They didn’t care if they were young or old. There were women and many children. It was a horrible scene.”
“We fought back but they then sent in more troops and surrounded us,” said another eyewitness. “The president was urging us to stay calm and not to clash with them.”
“They didn’t tell us anything or try to negotiate,” Ter-Petrosian said for his part. “They attacked the people with truncheons and electric-shock equipment.”
His campaign office said in a separate statement that the ex-president and his allies will “try” to press ahead with their Saturday rally scheduled for 3 p.m. local time. The statement also said the whereabouts of some opposition leaders are not known.