President Robert Kocharian dismissed calls for an early end to the state of emergency in Yerevan and threatened to imprison his predecessor and arch-foe Levon Ter-Petrosian on Wednesday as his security bodies widened the post-election crackdown on the Armenian opposition.
The Armenian government is facing growing international pressure to lift the 20-day emergency rule which Kocharian declared on Saturday night following bloody clashes between riot police and Ter-Petrosian supporters. An envoy from the Organization for Security and Cooperation said Tuesday that its lifting is a necessary condition for solving the country’s most serious political crisis in nearly a decade.
"I do not see any reason for the shortening or for the extension of the state of emergency," Kocharian told a news conference . He made it clear that the authorities will not hesitate to break up more Ter-Petrosian rallies even after March 20.
According to the Office of the Prosecutor-General, 53 supporters of Ter-Petrosian, among them two parliament deputies, have been arrested in the aftermath of Armenia’s disputed presidential election. A spokeswoman for the office, Sona Truzian, told RFE/RL that 26 of them have already been formally charged with instigating and participating in “mass disorders” and attempting to forcibly seize power. The charges mainly stem from Saturday’s clashes in Yerevan between protesters and security forces that left at least eight people dead.
Truzian said law-enforcement authorities are also hunting for “many” other Ter-Petrosian loyalists. She refused to identify any of them, citing “the interests of the investigation.” Two of the fugitives are also members of the parliament.
Kocharian said the authorities would commit a “big injustice” if they jailed only ordinary participants of the March 1 clashes. He stressed the importance of prosecuting all “organizers” of what his administration calls an opposition attempt at coup d’etat.
Kocharian added that many in Armenia believe Ter-Petrosian should also be punished for the opposition actions. “Imagine a situation where I try to return to power five years later in the same fashion,” the outgoing president said. “Such methods and precedents must be ruled out. Everyone must be punished in accordance with law.”
Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian likewise declined to rule out the possibility of Ter-Petrosian’s arrest on Tuesday.
Ter-Petrosian has said that the protest would not have been marred by bloodshed had the authorities lifted his de facto house arrest and allowed him to join the crowd. He said hours before the outbreak of violence he offered the authorities to let the crowd of tens of thousands of his angry supporters, who gathered outside the Yerevan municipality, march through the city center and then disperse.
“Imagine what would have happened to our city had we let that uncontrollable crowd into central streets,” responded Kocharian. He said he offered Ter-Petrosian to rally his supporters outside the city center but that the latter refused.
Meanwhile, Ter-Petrosian associates not arrested so far told RFE/RL on Wednesday that they are undaunted by the intensifying government crackdown. “The authorities are showing that violence repression is their only language of communication with the opposition and the people,” said Levon Zurabian, the ex-president’s former press secretary. “This is a very counterproductive approach.”
“The most prudent and clever thing the authorities could have done today is to begin a dialogue with leaders representing the people. But they are rejecting dialogue,” he added.
“If the authorities hope that the process is over, they are mistaken,” said Lyudmila Sargsian of the opposition Social Democratic Hnchakian Party. “The violence which they perpetrated and are now blaming on the opposition is convincing every citizen that these authorities are leading this country to ruin.”