By Emil Danielyan, Ruzanna Khachatrian and Ruzanna Stepanian
The post-election unrest in Armenia deepened on Saturday evening as thousands of people rallied and barricaded themselves on a major street intersection in central Yerevan in anticipation of another government attempt to forcibly end the ongoing opposition protests. President Robert Kocharian, meanwhile, threatened to call a state of emergency in the country.
The crowd, furious with the brutal break-up earlier in the day of an overnight protest by fellow supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, blocked all streets leading to the area with buses and other vehicles seized from riot police that tried unsuccessfully to disperse them several hours earlier. Ter-Petrosian associates urged the protesters not go home until the authorities end the opposition leader’s de facto house arrest.
“Levon Ter-Petrosian told us to stay here and wait for him,” one of them, Aram Sarkisian, said.
Ter-Petrosian’s election campaign headquarters said in a separate statement that only the ex-president’s presence “could calm tempers” and prevent a further escalation of the situation. It warned that the Armenian authorities will be responsible for that escalation if they refuse to let Ter-Petrosian leave his house where he claims to have been forcibly taken from Liberty Square.
However, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian denied that Ter-Petrosian was placed under house arrest, saying that officers of the State Protection Service (SPS) were deployed outside his house only to ensure his personal security. Oskanian said they will be removed from there if Ter-Petrosian renounces the services of his bodyguards employed by the SPS.
Speaking at a joint news conference with a deputy chief of the Armenian police, Oskanian also warned that Kocharian will declare a state of emergency if the demonstrations continue. He echoed in that regard police claims that the more than one thousand opposition supporters camped in Liberty Square themselves attacked security forces before being dispersed by the latter.
Meanwhile, another opposition leader, Nikol Pashinian, urged the protesters massing in the vast area outside the Yerevan municipality and the French Embassy in Armenia to boost their “self-defense” and brace themselves for a possible police attack. He also told them to reinforce the barricades set up there following the police attempt to disperse several hundred opposition supporters who gathered there by noon.
“The authorities made a big mistake this morning,” said Pashinian. “Believe me, we will make the most of that mistake.”
Many protesters were already armed with metal and wooden sticks and sounded bullish about taking on security forces. Some held truncheons and shields seized from riot police. Angry protesters also set ablaze a police jeep which eyewitnesses said raced through the street intersection and ran over two women. They said a policeman that drove it escaped the scene unharmed.
In another incident, Armen Martirosian, a parliamdent deputy from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party, was stabbed in the same area by one of several men who he said were trying to beat up a police officer. He was immediately hospitalized.
“As they hit the police officer, I lay on him to protect his head and back,” Martirosian told RFE/RL from his hospital bed. “At that point I felt pain in my leg.”
Martirosian said he believes the attackers were “agents provocateurs.” “I think the attackers were not opposition demonstrators because we say something demonstrators usually listen to us.”