The Armenian police warned on Monday that they will use force against opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and his supporters if the latter march towards the presidential palace in Yerevan during President Serzh Sarkisian’s inauguration on Tuesday.
The police also appeared to threaten to detain Hovannisian if he attempts to assume power after declaring himself Armenia's president in Yerevan’s Liberty Square.
Hovannisian, who claims to have been the real winner of the February 18 presidential election, is scheduled to hold his alternative “inauguration” there parallel to Sarkisian’s swearing-in ceremony that will take place at the city’s largest concert hall. He has urged supporters from across the country to gather in the square on Tuesday morning.
Hovannisian’s “inauguration” is to be followed by daylong opposition rallies,. The opposition candidate’s campaign headquarters last week asked the Yerevan Mayor’s Office to sanction an opposition march through several major streets in the city center. Sarkisian’s official residence is located on one of those streets, Marshal Bagramian Avenue.
The municipality allowed the march on the condition that the organizers stay away from Bagramian Avenue. A senior municipality official, Gagik Baghdasarian, said at the weekend that a demonstration there would interfere with “numerous ceremonial events” stemming from Sarkisian’s inauguration.
Armen Martirosian, a top Hovannisian aide, rejected an alternative route for the demonstration proposed by the municipal authorities. “The kind of protest which we want to voice does not correspond to that route,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).
Martirosian, who was stabbed and hospitalized during the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan, would not say whether Hovannisian will defy the ban and lead the crowd towards the presidential palace. “On April 9 you will see in which direction we move and with what demands,” he said vaguely.
In a statement released on Monday, the national police warned that they are ready to use force to enforce the restrictions set by the authorities. “Therefore, in order to avoid an inevitable and adequate police intervention and possible clashes, the Armenian police are urging the organizers and participants of the gathering to fully abide by the decision made by the authorized [municipal] body,” it said.
The statement also threatened to “remove” Hovannisian and other opposition figures from the site of the planned protests if they attempt to assume presidential powers with “corresponding actions.” The police will break up the protests if most demonstrators “join or approve of such actions,” it said.