Riot police used force on Thursday to prevent supporters of opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian from pitching a tent at the site of his continuing hunger strike against official results of Armenia’s presidential election.
Police officers scuffled with a group of Hovannisian loyalists in Yerevan’s Liberty Square as the latter tried to unfurl the tent which they hoped would make it easier for the opposition presidential candidate to spend nights there. Among the oppositionists were three members of the Armenian parliament representing Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party.
Valeri Osipian, a deputy chief of the Yerevan police who ordered the use of force, condemned the lawmakers for their “provocative” actions. He argued that municipal authorities did not allow the tent to be placed in the square. The authorities cited its proximity to “cultural-historical monuments.”
Representatives of Armenia’s human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, were also at the scene of the incident. They insisted that the police actions are unjustified and that Hovannisian has a legal right to use a single tent for his protest.
“We are dealing with a political, rather than legal ban because the police actions are not on the legal plane,” Zharangutyun spokesman Hovsep Khurshudian told journalists. He said Zharangutyun representatives will make another attempt to place the tent in the square later in the day.
However, Hovannisian, who watched the incident from an adjacent bench where has been seated since Sunday, told them not to do that. “There is no need to resort to that step,” he later on Thursday. He said he does not want to use the tent without police authorization and risk more serious violence.
“At the same time, the police actions against citizens were unacceptable and unlawful,” Hovannisian told journalists.