The National Assembly approved on Thursday a government bill which opposition politicians say will make it easier for the Armenian authorities to use the army for suppressing street protests.
The bill passed in the first reading stipulates that the president of the republic can call a state of emergency only if there is an “immediate danger to constitutional order.” That includes attempts to forcibly seize power, terrorism and “mass disturbances.”
The bill allows the head of state to turn to the armed forces if police and other security forces are unable to enforce emergency rule. In that case, military personnel will be allowed to use riot equipment and live ammunition in accordance with an Armenian law on the police.
Armenian army units were ordered into central Yerevan on two occasions in the past, most recently in the aftermath of the February 2008 presidential election that saw deadly clashes between security forces and opposition protesters. Ten people were killed and more than 200 others injured on March 1-2, 2008.
Parliament deputies from the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) cited the bloody unrest as they expressed serious concern about the bill and urged their pro-government colleagues not to pass it. “The use of the army in any way is inadmissible,” one of them, Armen Martirosian, said during a parliament debate on Wednesday.
Martirosian claimed that Armenia’s political leadership is capable of usurping power through vote rigging and ordering the military to crush opposition protests against what would amount to a coup d’etat. “When such a regime uses the army, it’s clear what will happen,” he said.
Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian, who presented the bill to lawmakers, dismissed the opposition claims. He also denied any connection between the bill’s passage and the parliamentary elections due in May.