By Armen Zakarian
Representatives of 14 Armenian opposition parties vowed Wednesday to hold more street protests against President Robert Kocharian who they believe was behind the de facto shutdown of Armenia’s main independent television. The parties, which last week rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan, said they will hold another demonstration on Friday because they think he will not meet their demands.
The opposition coalition, formed after the A1+ channel was forced to end its broadcasts at midnight on April 2, issued Kocharian with an ultimatum to ensure its return to the air by April 12 or risk facing a campaign of “civil disobedience.” It also demanded the scrapping of a controversial tender for A1+’s frequency and the dissolution of a state commission that awarded it to an entertainment company with reported links to the presidential administration.
Kocharian shrugged off the ultimatum on Tuesday, saying that he is not empowered to meet any of the three demands.
Opposition leaders, who have used the A1+ outcry to step up attacks on the authorities, on Wednesday continued to discuss their strategy. The head of their “coordinating council,” former defense minister Vagharshak Harutiunian, told RFE/RL that the 14 parties will announce their plan of actions on Thursday. He said Friday’s rally will likely culminate in a march to the presidential palace in Yerevan.
According to various estimates, some 10,000 people attended the opposition protest held at the city’s Freedom Square on April 5. A senior member of the People’s Party of Armenia (HZhK), Vartan Mkrtchian, said the opposition expects to see a larger crowd this week.
Kocharian and his allies say the opposition is trying to “exploit” public sympathy for A1+ in a bid to boost its political clout ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections due early next year.
But Harutiunian countered that 14-member coalition is united around a single issue and will not develop into an electoral alliance. He said: “There is no such purpose. These 14 parties adopted a joint resolution and are trying to achieve objectives within the framework of that resolution.”