By Emil Danielyan
Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian demanded President Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and fresh presidential and parliamentary elections late Friday as thousands of his supporters again rallied in Yerevan, defying a government ban.
Addressing more than 10,000 people who gathered in the city center, Ter-Petrosian also reiterated his earlier demands for an independent inquiry into the deadly March 1 break-up of his post-election protests and the release of dozens of opposition members arrested in the ensuing government crackdown.
He denounced as an “impudent challenge” to the domestic public and the international community Sarkisian’s recent implicit remark that the Armenian authorities do not have to fully meet similar demands voiced the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) by next January.
“I don’t know what the international community’s reaction to his statement will be, but the reaction of the Armenian public is beyond doubt: it will resolutely continue the popular struggle and make Serzh Sarkisian’s resignation and pre-term presidential elections the main slogan of our movement,” said Ter-Petrosian.
Opposition leaders said earlier that Friday’s rally will be “decisive” for the success of their campaign, hinting that it could spark the kind of street protests that nearly brought down the government following the February 19 presidential election. Ter-Petrosian called on July 4 for a “maximum mobilization of the public” in the weeks leading up to August 1.
The former Armenian president appears to have postponed his new push for power by one month, speaking of the need to achieve “a peak of the public’s political activity” in September. One of his top aides, Levon Zurabian, indicated that the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition hopes to pull bigger crowds after the summer vacations.
Zurabian said the next opposition rally will take place on September 5 and mark the “start of a nationwide campaign of rallies, marches and other forms of mass protest which will aim to finally rid ourselves of this kleptocratic regime.” “In September our movement will be joined by tens of thousands of our fellow citizens returning from summer vacation, students, and the burden of agricultural work will somewhat ease,” he said.
Sarkisian’s resignation and the holding of snap elections are also the key declared objectives of the newly formed Armenian National Congress (HAK), an alliance of 16 mostly small opposition parties that backed Ter-Petrosian’s 2008 presidential bid. Leaders of those parties demonstratively signed the HAK’s founding declaration in front of the crowd that gathered outside Yerevan’s Matenadaran museum.
The declaration made clear at the same time that opposition is ready to engage in a dialogue with the Sarkisian administration on “reforms aimed at the country’s democratic development” in case of the release of all “political prisoners.” “Free all political prisoners and you can sit down with us and talk about everything,” Ter-Petrosian said, appealing to the authorities.
Much of Ter-Petrosian’s hour-long speech was devoted to Sarkisian’s first four months in power which the opposition leader believes have produced no positive change and been marked by a “total persecution of dissent.” He also dismissed Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s ambitious reform agenda, saying that the latter lacks the muscle to change Armenia’s “vicious” system of governance and combat corruption.
“The only thing that Serzh Sarkisian did well during his 100 days in power is a further restriction of democratic freedoms and a systematic violation of human rights, as a result of which the confrontation between the regime and the public has reached its climax,” Ter-Petrosian charged before leading his enthusiastic supporters on a march through the city center.
As was the case during the previous opposition rally, scores of police escorted the crowd but made no attempts to disperse it.