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By Ruzanna Stepanian
Senior officials from the Council of Europe expressed concern on Tuesday about the Armenian authorities’ refusal to allow the opposition to rally supporters in Yerevan on March 1 on the first anniversary of Armenia’s bloody post-election unrest.

The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) last week formally notified the Yerevan mayor’s office about its intention to hold the rally outside the Matenadaran institute of ancient manuscripts or Northern Avenue. The municipality turned down the application and suggested an alternative venue for the planned protest just outside downtown Yerevan. It said that a “cultural event” has already been scheduled outside the Matenadaran for March 1 and cited continuing construction work on Northern Avenue.

The HAK rejected the ban as illegal, urging supporters to gather outside the Matenadaran on March 1. A senior member of the opposition alliance, Artak Zeynalian, wrote to the chief of the Armenian police, Alik Sargsian, on Tuesday, asking law-enforcement officials to maintain order during the protest. The police did not immediately react to the letter.

The rally ban also prompted concern from John Prescott and Georges Colombier, the two Armenia rapporteurs of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). “They stressed that the Assembly has on several occasions called upon the authorities to fully respect the principle of freedom of assembly in Armenia and not to place undue restrictions, especially with regard to the requested venues, upon peaceful rallies organized by the opposition,” read a statement posted on the Council of Europe website.

(Photolur photo: Prescott, left, and Colombier pictured during a recent visit to Yerevan.)
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