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Police Chief Denies ‘Friendly Fire’ Killings in Post-Election Unrest


Armenia -- Head of the Armenian Police Alik Sargsian at a press conference, 21 August, 2009

Armenia -- Head of the Armenian Police Alik Sargsian at a press conference, 21 August, 2009

The chief of Armenia’s national police service has denied that either of the two police servicemen killed in last year’s post-election melee in Yerevan might have become victims of weapons used by fellow servicemen.

At a press conference on Friday, Major-General Alik Sargsian also warned the opposition media against making a ‘scapegoat’ out of the police by publishing incriminating stories against separate police officers.

Sarkisian said the recent reports published by the pro-opposition members of the disbanded Fact-Finding Group of Experts that was tasked with collecting evidence to shed light on Armenia’s worst street violence lacked any evidential grounds to blame the police for any of the ten deaths that happed on March 1-2, 2008. He stressed that so far police have failed to find any evidence to support the lingering suspicions.

“There is no accusing anyone as there is presumption of innocence. You have forgotten about it,” Sarkisian said poignantly, addressing his words the media.

Sarkisian also said that internal investigations have been conducted by the police on every information alleging police mishandling of the riot equipment that would result in deaths in the March 1-2, 2008 clashes.

“If you want police to be punished, then it will be punished. But only those who hit people with truncheons or roughed them up. I have already submitted evidence to the Special Investigation Service on that account. You will hear about this soon. But that I should find some policeman who fired at a policeman or killed civilians?... Leave the police alone,” Sarkisian said, angrily.

The chief of the national police promised to inform the media soon about a number of revelations connected with two recent high-profile cases and make arrests in these cases. He said, however, that the promised revelations would not concern the murder of Gevorg Mherian, a deputy chief of the national police, who was shot dead moments after leaving his apartment in Yerevan on February 4. Sarkisian said operative work in that case was still ongoing.

On another recent controversial case, Sarkisian said police had established that the son of Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian was not immediately involved in the shooting incident that happened in Armenia’s northwestern Shirak province last month.

A villager was hospitalized with a gunshot wound after someone from among the group that also included Spartak Ghukasian fired a shot in his direction following an argument.

“The person who fired the shot has been identified and placed under arrest,” said Sarkisian, stressing that the mayor’s son had no active participation in the crime.

Sarkisian also said that the high-profile attack on prominent television journalist Nver Mnatsakanian was a case of mistaken identity and was in no way connected with the latter’s professional activities.

Sarkisian also defended the court decision to remand in custody a young opposition activist who was detained following an incident with police officers in downtown Yerevan while publicizing a rally planned by the Armenian opposition.

The police chief said the bodily injuries that Tigran Arakelian had inflicted on the policemen were heavy enough to be considered by the court as a sufficient ground for keeping him in custody.

The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has claimed that Arakelian is a victim of political persecution and himself suffered from police brutality. No case has been opened into the opposition activist’s allegations that he himself was punched, kicked and even pistol-whipped by a group of plainclothes police officers. Arakelian and two other teenage opposition supporters required hospitalization on that day. Currently, Arakelian is in hospital for convicts. He claims his current hospitalization is also the result of the head injuries that were inflicted on him by the police officers.

At the press conference, Armenia’s police chief also reported a rise in the crime detection rate in the republic in the first six months of 2009. Sarkisian said nearly 85 percent of all types of crimes were detected in the period in question – a nearly 10 percent rise over the crime detection rate reported for the same period last year.

Sarkisian also hailed the recent police crackdown on illegal weapons as a success, which he said resulted in the confiscation or voluntary surrender of more than 360 units of illegally possessed arms.

The Armenian opposition has claimed that the special operation codenamed ‘Shield’, as part of which on certain days police set up roadblocks on the highways leading to Yerevan, stopping buses, minibuses and even personal cars, was aimed at preventing the entry of numerous opposition supporters traveling from provinces to the capital to participate in anti-government protests, including in the HAK rallies held ahead of the May 31 municipal elections.
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