By Ruben Meloyan
Authorities in Yerevan have banned a key anti-government rally which former President Levon Ter-Petrosian and his opposition alliance plan to hold on August 1, an opposition representative said on Wednesday.
Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement informed the municipal authorities last week that they it like to rally supporters in the city’s Liberty Square or outside the Matenadaran museum of ancient manuscripts, the two traditional venues for public gatherings in central Yerevan. According to Levon Zurabian, a senior member of the movement, the municipality refused to sanction the demonstration in either location citing police claims that it would degenerate into “mass disturbances.”
The municipality banned the last two rallies held by Ter-Petrosian outside the Matenadaran on June 20 and July 4 on the same grounds. The rallies went ahead and were not marred by violence, with police making no attempts to disperse thousands of protesters.
The bans came despite an easing of severe restrictions on freedom of assembly imposed by the Armenian government following the March 1 suppression of Ter-Petrosian’s post-election demonstrations in Yerevan. The government came under strong pressure from Western governments and human rights bodies to scrap those restrictions.
Zurabian claimed that an aide to Mayor Yervand Zakharian told an opposition representative that the authorities can allow opposition supporters to gather outside the Matenadaran if organizers promise that they will not march through the city center. He said the opposition rejected the “illegal deal.”
“The municipality thereby accepted that there will be nothing wrong if the rally takes place at the Matenadaran,” Zurabian told reporters. “The authorities’ main headache is the march because they realize what a powerful effect it can have on citizens.”
During his last rally Ter-Petrosian announced a renewed campaign of daily anti-government protests and the start of a “maximum mobilization of the public” in support of the opposition demands addressed to President Serzh Sarkisian. Dozens of his supporters have since been taking part in a non-stop sit-in on a street leading to Liberty Square.
The most important of the opposition demands is the immediate release of more than 70 opposition activists and supporters arrested in the wake of Armenia’s disputed presidential election. The opposition also wants the authorities to sack and prosecute senior officials responsible for the use of lethal force against opposition supporters who barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office on March 1.
Sarkisian indicated on Monday the authorities are in no rush to release individuals considered political prisoners by the opposition. He also effectively rule out the possibility of engaging in dialogue with Ter-Petrosian.
In Zurabian’s words, Sarkisian’s remarks leave the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition with no choice but to demand his resignation at the upcoming rally. Zurabian and other opposition speakers said on July 4 that it will be “decisive” for the success of their fresh bid for regime change.
Zurabian on Wednesday again refused to fully disclose the opposition tactic, saying only that the August 1 rally will be followed by an opposition march.
(Photolur photo: Levon Zurabian.)