The Armenian authorities are not worried about the latest opposition campaign of street protests aimed at forcing President Serzh Sarkisian to step down, the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) insisted on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, the authorities appeared to have restricted bus services between Yerevan and nearby towns just hours before the start of nonstop anti-government rallies organized by an alliance of radical opposition forces.
In at least one of those towns, Abovian, many commuters were unable to travel to the capital because of a sudden lack of buses and minibuses. “There are no busies today and many people have to catch taxis,” one woman told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) at an unusually crowded local bus stop.
“They say it’s because of some elections,” said another Abovian resident.
Idling bus drivers and other employees of a transport company operating Yerevan-Abovian bus routes refused to give any explanations. The company’s owner, Artur Harutiunian, is a well-known government loyalist. He too declined a comment.
The New Armenia Public Salvation Front, an opposition grouping that launched the campaign of “civil disobedience,” said that the authorities are thereby trying to lower attendance at their rallies to be held in Yerevan’s Liberty Square. The campaign is timed to coincide with the December 6 referendum on controversial constitutional changes sought by Sarkisian.
“This is yet another illegal action taken by the authorities and the police in particular,” said Armen Martirosian, a New Armenia leader. “Regardless of that, our actions will be peaceful.”
The ruling HHK claimed, meanwhile, the authorities do not see a serious threat to their power emanating from the planned protests. “First of all, I don’t think [the opposition forces] have many supporters,” its chief spokesman, Eduard Sharmazanov, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “Secondly, I don’t know the motives of citizens going to their rallies.”
“One should not be surprised that people don’t like the authorities … in a country where there is corruption, a lot of poverty and other socioeconomic problems,” he said.
Sharmazanov also downplayed the fact that among the leaders of the opposition campaign is Raffi Hovannisian, Sarkisian’s main challenger in the 2013 presidential election. He described Hovannisian as an “unserious figure.”