The Armenian police insisted on Thursday that they have not severely restricted transportation links between Yerevan and the rest of the country in order to keep more people from joining the ongoing anti-government protests in the capital.
Lieutenant-General Alik Sargsian acknowledged that he has beefed up police presence on the roads leading to Yerevan but denied any political reasons for that.
“I have ordered special service on road police posts and people are performing that service,” Sargsian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But I know of no facts of police stopping cars and telling passengers to get off or telling them not to go to the city and take part in rallies. I have given no such instructions to anyone.”
“As police chief, I have the right to know the situation and understand traffic between the city and the regions,” he said, speaking after a meeting of Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s cabinet held in Artashat, a town 30 kilometers south of Yerevan.
The police claimed to have conducted similar anti-crime operations ahead of many rallies held by the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) in recent years.
Police presence on the roads has reportedly grown significantly since the HAK began a campaign of round-the-clock demonstrations in Yerevan’s Liberty Square last Friday. HAK leaders say that police officers are tasked with preventing public buses and even taxis from going to the city.
Anecdotal evidence and eyewitness accounts suggest that public transport traffic between Yerevan and the regions has decreased dramatically over the past week. The main bus station in Artashat, for example, was suspiciously deserted on Thursday afternoon, with no buses or minibuses parked outside it.
The HAK has repeatedly condemned what it considers to be an illegal transport “blockade.”
Sargsian also indicated that the police will not attempt to break up the Liberty Square protests for now. “At the moment there is no such intention or decision,” he said.
But the police chief also warned, “One day our patience will probably end because we can’t allow that situation to continue in the square for months. As an Armenian, I don’t like that.”
The police and other security bodies already used force to break up on March 1, 2008 similar protests that were organized by HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in Liberty Square in the immediate aftermath of a disputed presidential election.
The pre-dawn operation, which involved mass arrests and beatings of opposition activists, triggered vicious clashes elsewhere in central Yerevan later that day. Eight opposition protesters and two security personnel died as a result.