By Astghik Bedevian and Karine Simonian
Four arrested supporters of Levon Ter-Petrosian were remanded in pre-trial custody on Friday pending investigation into their alleged assault on a man who heckled the former president at a campaign rally in the central town of Talin.
A local court allowed the police to keep them under arrest for up to two months after a brief hearing held behind the closed doors. The hearing began immediately after the oppositionists, among them the chief of Ter-Petrosian’s campaign office in Talin, were formally charged with “collective hooliganism.”
The charges stem from an incident that marred Ter-Petrosian’s campaign rally in the small town on Sunday. A local resident sympathetic to the government was reportedly punched by Ter-Petrosian loyalists after telling the ex-president that “the people of Talin are not with you.” The Ter-Petrosian campaign has described the incident as a government “provocation.”
“My clients did not commit hooligan acts,” the suspects’ lawyer, Hovik Arsenian, told RFE/RL. “They are members of the Ter-Petrosian campaign. Why would they engage in hooliganism in front of their people? On the contrary, they tried to stop a hooligan act.”
The four oppositionists are also affiliated with the Yerkrapah Union, an influential organization uniting veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh. Their arrest and prosecution prompted concern from several senior members of Yerkrapah, among them two pro-government parliamentarians, who arrived Talin on Thursday in a bid to secure the oppositionists’ release.
Mushegh Saghatelian, another prominent Yerkrapah member and a Ter-Petrosian ally, told RFE/RL that the union’s governing board headed by Deputy Defense Minister Manvel Grigorian will meet in Yerevan on Saturday to discuss the development.
Ter-Petrosian, meanwhile, toured the northern Lori region Friday on a campaign trip that began in Koti, the native village of Vano Siradeghian, his controversial former interior minister who fled Armenia in 2000 to avoid prosecution on murder charges. Speaking at a campaign rally there, he referred to Siradeghian as the “greatest” of all living Armenian novelists and said the people of Koti should show support for their prominent compatriot by voting for him in the February 19 election.
“If Serzh Sarkisian gets a single vote here, I will say shame on you,” Ter-Petrosian declared, prompting cheers and “Vano! Vano!” chants from the crowd.
Addressing supporters in the regional capital Vanadzor later in the day, Ter-Petrosian claimed that two other prominent opposition leaders, Artur Baghdasarian and Raffi Hovannisian, have agreed to endorse his presidential bid. “I have serious reason to state that Artur Baghdasarian and Raffi Hovannisian too will join us because this is already becoming a national-liberation struggle,” he said.
Incidentally, Ter-Petrosian’s campaign office in Vanadzor was hit by an apparent arson attack early on Friday. The office’s entrance door was seriously damaged by Molotov cocktails hurled by unknown assailants.