By Hovannes Shoghikian
Police in Yerevan used force on Monday to remove anti-government posters and other agitation material from the scene of a non-stop sit-in launched by the Armenian opposition nearly two months ago.
But they did not attempt to disperse dozens of opposition supporters camped out in Northern Avenue since early July.
The around-the-clock protest is part of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s efforts to “mobilize” the public ahead of his anticipated fresh campaign to oust Armenia’s current leadership. The recently constructed pedestrian boulevard leading to Yerevan’s Liberty Square has also been the scene of daily gatherings of Ter-Petrosian supporters since the end of emergency rule imposed by the authorities following the deadly March 1 unrest in the capital.
The protesters decorated the avenue with pictures of jailed opposition members posted with information about accusations brought against them as well as opposition placards and anti-government cartoons.
Eyewitnesses said about a hundred police officers smashed and confiscated stands displaying those pictures and tore up other material posted on the walls. “When we protested, they began shouting and verbally abusing us,” Ruzan Karapetian, a participant of the sit-in, told RFE/RL. She claimed to have been hit by one of the law-enforcement authorities.
About a dozen policemen were quick to again move into the street later in the morning after a young man defied them by posting an opposition banner on the wall. They removed it after a brief altercation with the protesters. One of the officers said that they are acting on complaints lodged by the owners of expensive buildings lining the street.
Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK) condemned the police actions, saying that “the regime is terrified by the growing effectiveness and appeal of the ongoing sit-in in Northern Avenue.” In a statement, the HAK said the Armenian authorities realize the “massive nature” of the next opposition rally in Yerevan scheduled for September 5.
Ter-Petrosian and his aides have said the rally will mark the start of their “decisive” actions aimed at forcing President Serzh Sarkisian to step down and call fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.