Supporters and opponents of Raffi Hovannisian scuffled in the southeastern Armenian town of Kapan on Monday as the opposition leader held a rally there at the start of a new nationwide campaign of post-election protests.
Hovannisian rallied a relatively small crowd in the capital of Syunik province to again reject the official results of the February 18 presidential election and demand the resignation of Surik Khachatrian, the controversial regional governor.
A local woman interrupted Hovannisian’s speech at the rally, saying that he is only hungry for power and “has done nothing for the people.” She was backed by several other government loyalists who demanded that he leave Kapan.
The jeers resulted in a brief tussle between opposition supporters and the individuals whom Hovannisian branded as government “provocateurs.” Police officers at the scene stood by and looked on before declaring that the rally is illegal because it was not sanctioned by local authorities.
Hovannisian scheduled the Kapan rally late last week after Khachatrian reportedly threatened to “smash Raffi’s head” because of what he called a falsification of Armenian history by the opposition leader’s father, prominent U.S.-Armenian historian Richard Hovannisian.
Raffi Hovannisian challenged the notoriously violent governor to confront him at Kapan’s central square. He said on Monday that Khachatrian chose instead to try to disrupt his rally.
Khachatrian denied any involvement in the incident. “He was the one who had something to tell me,” Khachatrian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) by phone. “He should have come to my office instead of inviting me to a debate watched by several dozen people.”
The governor also appeared to defend his threats addressed to President Serzh Sarkisian’s main election challenger. “If there are no [history] falsifiers among them why do they feel bad?” he said.
Hovannisian already toured Kapan and other towns in Syunik and as well as other parts of the country before going on hunger strike in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on March 10. He ended the hunger strike on Sunday after announcing a fresh campaign of nationwide protests against alleged vote rigging. He said the campaign will be launched in preparation for massive demonstrations in Yerevan expected on April 9. Sarkisian is scheduled to be sworn in for a second term on that day.