By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian warned his political opponents Monday against holding further “disruptive” demonstrations in Yerevan, saying that the Armenian police would again use force to break them up.
He was also largely satisfied with international reaction to last week’s brutal suppression of the first such protest and the ensued mass arrests of opposition activists.
“Nobody prevented the opposition from staging sit-ins, [square] rallies,” Kocharian said in an interview with the Russian daily “Izvestiya” published by his press service. “But if there will be more opposition attempts to attract attention by blocking thoroughfares or hampering the work of state institutions, then the police will do what they are obliged to do. And the president will do what he is obliged to do under the constitution. Namely, to ensure the normal functioning of government bodies.”
The warning came amid the Armenian opposition’s plans to continue its campaign for regime change. The Artarutyun (Justice) bloc and the National Unity Party are due to again rally supporters in the city center on Wednesday. It is not yet clear, though, whether they will tell the crowd to march up Marshal Baghramian Avenue leading the presidential palace.
The street became a scene of serious violence in the early hours of Tuesday when truncheon-wielding police attacked more than two thousand peaceful demonstrators, using water cannons and stun grenades. Scores of people were badly injured and arrested by security forces that also blocked the main escape routes of the fleeing protesters.
The opposition leaders, some of whom briefly went underground, branded the police actions a “crime against the people.” Local human rights likewise denounced the crackdown. However, international criticism of the Armenian authorities’ handling of the confrontation was muted. The United States, for example, chided Yerevan for the mass arrests and police raids on opposition offices, but did not directly comment on the break-up of the demonstration.
“It seems to me that the majority of statements addressed to us [from abroad] are quite balanced,” Kocharian said.
Kocharian also appeared to rule out any compromise deals with the opposition. “I don’t know if the opposition has any demands except the president’s resignation,” he argued.
“Parliament is the opposition’s home; it is represented there; it must work there by definition and in line with its obligations. To offer it something so that it returns home and does what it is obliged to do, I don’t quite understand that.”
Kocharian further noted that the opposition onslaught will make his administration “work more energetically” on reducing widespread poverty and tackling other grave economic problems which fuel popular disaffection with the Armenian government. He pledged to combat endemic government corruption in earnest but ruled out the kind of action taken by the new leadership of neighboring Georgia.
Several senior Georgian officials have been arrested and prosecuted on corruption charges since President Mikhail Saakashvili took office last January. Saakashvili has vowed to continue the crackdown.