Dozens of young environmental activists confronted riot police for the third consecutive day on Thursday in a renewed standoff over the controversial construction of kiosks in a public park in downtown Yerevan.
The activists began a round-the-clock sit-in there on Tuesday in protest against municipal authorities’ refusal to dismantle the nearly one dozen kiosks.
Tension in Mashtots Park rose on Wednesday night after police confiscated a tent pitched there by some protesters. A police statement issued afterwards said that constituted a violation of public order.
The protesters rejected the police claim, as did Karen Andreasian, the state human rights defender. In a written statement, Andreasian demanded that the police allow them to spend nights in tents.
Police presence in the park was beefed up on Thursday morning. Some 80 police officers were deployed there to prevent the activists from again occupying the largely completed stores.
Armenia - Police officers guard kiosks built in Yerevan's Mashtots Park, 13Mar2012.
The small crowd demonstrated outside Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian’s office later in the day as the government discussed the situation with Yerevan Mayor Taron Markarian. The government backed Markarian’s stance in the month-long dispute.
The mayor has said all along that the kiosks will stand in Mashtots Park for up to three years and not damage any trees. He has also cited the need to protect the property rights of their owners.
The shops mainly selling clothing were previously located on the sidewalk of a major street in the city center. They were dismantled along with hundreds of other kiosks across Yerevan last year.
“We respect the views of our opponents,” Sarkisian told members of his cabinet. “We have discussed the situation with them in different formats and the solution which is today proposed by the municipality should put an end to this dialogue.”
“Let them have no doubts that the municipality itself will dismantle the kiosks within three years,” Markarian told journalists after the government meeting.
The activists rejected these assurances before marching back to the park. They said they will continue their nonstop protests.
“We demand an immediate dismantling,” one of them, Arpine Galfayan, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “These kiosks were placed here illegally.”