By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Authorities in Yerevan have banned another rally which Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian plans to hold next week, it emerged on Thursday.
Ter-Petrosian and his alliance defied a similar government ban last Friday to hold their first major demonstration in the city center since the bloody suppression of their massive street protests against official results of last February’s disputed presidential election.
They scheduled their next action for July 4 before submitting a relevant notification to the Yerevan municipality. The opposition wants to hold it in Liberty Square or outside the Matenadaran museum of ancient manuscripts, the two traditional venues for major public gatherings in the Armenian capital.
Gagik Baghdasarian, a senior municipality official, told RFE/RL that the mayor’s office refused to permit the planned rally in those locations because of a police statement citing a high risk of “mass disturbances.” “That gives us sufficient grounds to ban the event,” he said, adding that the municipality has suggested two other, “more quiet,” venues for it outside the city center.
The municipal authorities and the police cited the same grounds when they refused to sanction Ter-Petrosian’s Friday rally outside the Matenadaran. Scores of riot police were deployed there to enforce the ban. They left the scene soon after under pressure from more than 10,000 opposition supporters who gathered near square in front of the hillside building. The rally proceeded peacefully.
“This is pathetic,” Levon Zurabian, a senior aide to Ter-Petrosian, said, commenting on the latest rally ban. “Experience shows that tension arises only in cases where the police impede the holding of a rally.”
Zurabian said the ban is illegal also because the authorities failed to met a 72-hour legal time frame for the consideration of rally applications. He said Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement will therefore urge supporters to again take to the streets of the capital on July 4.
The Armenian government effectively banned opposition demonstrations following the March 1-2 break-up of Ter-Petrosian’s post-election protests which left at least ten people dead and more than 100 others wounded. The ban took the form of extremely controversial amendments to Armenia’s law on public gatherings.
The National Assembly eased those restrictions earlier this months under pressure from the United States and Europe. Restoration of freedom of assembly has been one of the key Western demands addressed to official Yerevan since the March 1 unrest.