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Armenia’s mainstream opposition forces distanced themselves on Wednesday from a radical activist’s purported attempt to topple the government, while blaming the latter for the root causes of the Tuesday’s street clashes in Yerevan.

“President Serzh Sarkisian and his regime are primarily to blame for what happened,” said Levon Zurabian, a leader of the Armenian National Congress (HAK). “When you rig elections, when you close all avenues for people to compete, work or create something, you must not be surprised that there are people resorting to the most extreme steps.”

Zurabian was at the same time careful not to describe Shant Harutiunian, the arrested leader of the protesters who clashed with riot police, as a political prisoner. “The situation is a bit complicated,” he told a news conference. “We cannot say that no illegal actions were taken.”

Zaruhi Postanjian, the parliamentary leader of the opposition Zharangutyun party, laid the blame squarely on the Armenian authorities. She alleged that the authorities effectively provoked the violence to justify the arrest of Harutiunian and dozens of his supporters.

Aghvan Vartanian, a leading member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), was more critical of the veteran activist’s actions, saying that violent methods are “unacceptable” to his opposition party. “But I am sure that things cannot continue like this for much longer,” warned Vartanian. “Eventually a critical mass will emerge. My main hope is the youth.”

Eduard Sharmazanov, the spokesman for the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), rejected the opposition attempts to rationalize Harutiunian’s actions. He said that legitimate public discontent with the state of affairs in Armenia must not be an excuse for anti-government violence.

“Levon Zurabian had better think before speaking because he himself used to be in government,” Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Maintaining public order is a constitutional requirement.”
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