By Karine Kalantarian
The Yerevan municipality refused on Wednesday to sanction a planned Friday demonstration in the city center which is expected to mark the culmination of a month-long opposition campaign against President Robert Kocharian. But opposition leaders vowed to defy the ban, saying that it is illegal.
In a letter to the Artarutyun (Justice) alliance, the chief of staff of Mayor Yervand Zakharian said the holding of the demonstrations in downtown Yerevan is “not expedient” because they disrupt “the city’s normal life.” It said the municipality has received numerous complaints from residents and the administration of the central Kentron district which claimed that street protests hamper the collection of local taxes.
The letter also argued that the most recent opposition rally held on Tuesday was marred by “violations of citizens’ rights and freedoms.” It was not clear if it referred to attempts by a group of men to disrupt the gathering. They hurled eggs and beat some of the protesters and journalists covering the event. Its organizer, the National Unity Party (AMK), says the violence was part of a high-level government “provocation.”
The AMK and Artarutyun decided to hold the next Yerevan together. An Artarutyun leader, Victor Dallakian, said the protest will go ahead despite the ban, because the opposition leaders, most of them members of parliament, have the unrestricted right to “meet with voters.” “On April 9, at four o’clock the parliamentary factions of National Unity and Artarutyun will hold a meeting with citizens on Freedom Square in accordance with the National Assembly regulations and Article 26 of the Armenian constitution,” Dallakian told RFE/RL.
Dallakian said earlier that the “decisive” rally will proceed continuously until Kocharian resigns. Kocharian and his allies, for their part, have repeatedly warned that the drive for regime change is “unconstitutional” and will be dealt with accordingly.
The National Unity leader, Artashes Geghamian, claimed Wednesday the authorities are planning a “big provocation” to give security forces a pretext to disperse the anti-government crowd. He said police in the regions outside Yerevan have begun impounding buses and vans to prevent opposition supporters from pouring into the capital on Friday.
The main roads leading to the city were already blocked by the police ahead of this week’s AMK rally. About 50 of its participants were detained afterwards. A dozen of them got jail sentences ranging from four to seven days.
No further arrests were reported on Wednesday. Still, one of the leaders of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party aligned with Artarutyun said police conducted a search in his apartment early in the morning. Aramazd Zakarian said law-enforcement officers showed a court order allowing them look for weapons and “written programs regarding a violent change of constitutional order.” They confiscated several video cassettes and hand-written articles, Zakarian added.
Another Hanrapetutyun leader, Suren Sureniants, was on Tuesday put under two-month arrest and charged in connection with a criminal investigation into the opposition activities. He denies the accusations.