By Margarit Yesayan
At least 10,000 people rallied in Yerevan on Friday to demand the resignation of President Robert Kocharian in a first-ever major demonstration organized the opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party led by Armenia’s former prime minister, Aram Sarkisian.
Hanrapetutyun last month joined forces with two other leading opposition groups, the People’s Party (HZhK) and the National Accord party, to launch a nationwide campaign for Kocharian’s ouster. The three opposition groups called on the Armenian parliament to impeach the head of state, accusing him of violating the constitution to tighten his grip on power. They also accused him of obstructing the investigation into the October 1999 shootings in the parliament.
Kocharian has rejected the charges and hit back by announcing that he will seek a second five-year term in office at the next presidential election due in 2003.
Hanrapetutyun used the rally to announce the start of a signature collection among members of the parliament supporting impeachment proceedings against Kocharian.
Vladimir Nazarian, a senior HZhK member and prominent lawyer, told RFE/RL earlier this month that the opposition will try to prove that several presidential decrees signed in the spring of last year, at the height of a bitter government infighting, were unconstitutional.
One of the decrees concerned the dismissal of Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, a close ally of then Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian. The two men were fired simultaneously. Nazarian, who is one of the authors of the current constitution, argued that the basic law does not allow Kocharian to sack cabinet members without the prime minister’s approval.
The three opposition parties, which consider forming an alliance, lack sufficient support to push the impeachment initiative through the parliament. They hold less than 20 seats in the 131-member National Assembly.
Speakers at the rally, Hanrapetutyun’s first show of force, alleged that police stopped buses carrying thousands of their supporters from entering Yerevan.