A street in downtown Yerevan that has been the scene of daily meetings of opposition supporters over the past year was cleared of all protesters and remained under tight police control for the second consecutive day on Thursday.
Small groups of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian have gathered on a section of Northern Avenue on a daily basis ever since the lifting of a three-week state of emergency imposed following last year’s post-election unrest in the Armenian capital. Police tried unsuccessfully in March and April 2008 to end what the Armenian opposition calls “political strolls” with random detentions of scores of their participants.
Dozens of police officers were again sent there on Wednesday evening, forcing a small crowd out of the pedestrian boulevard. They scuffled with some protesters and briefly detained ten of them, including a senior member of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), Levon Zurabian, in the process.
“Why did they take away my uncle?” cried one teenage girl. “He was just walking. They then attacked my mom.”
“As if holding our men in prison for over a year wasn’t enough,” a middle-aged woman said angrily, referring to more than 50 Ter-Petrosian loyalists remaining under arrest.
David Jalalian, a journalist from the A1Plus.am news service who covered the incident, was beaten by one of the policemen and hospitalized from the scene. Armenia’s leading media associations condemned the beating and demanded a police inquiry into it.
The HAK also condemned the incident and the broader police deployment on Northern Avenue. “The police actions ran counter to our constitution and laws,” Zurabian told RFE/RL. “We are going to sue the individuals responsible for those actions.”
But the police defended their actions, citing complaints lodged by the owners of several nearby shops and restaurants. According to a police spokesman, they believe that opposition protesters gathering on Northern Avenue scare away their customers by chanting anti-government slogans and singing songs.
“Such gatherings spoil the atmosphere,” Anahit Babayan, the manager of a big restaurant on Northern Avenue, told RFE/RL. “There have been many cases of people saying that they won’t visit our restaurant anymore.” The gatherings also “affect the mood” of foreign passersby and visitors, she said.
Zurabian dismissed these complaints, saying that the authorities themselves organized them to make the street off limits to the opposition. “All those complaints were lodged on the same day,” he said. “I’m sure that could not have been a coincidence.”