By Astghik BedevianThe Armenian police defended on Saturday the forcible break-up of the eleven-day peaceful opposition demonstration in Yerevan, portraying the use of force as a preemptive action against “mass riots” allegedly planned by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian.
A spokesman for the national Police Service, Sayat Shirinian, said Ter-Petrosian and his associates distributed on Friday “large quantities” of metal bars, firearms and even hand grenades to the protesters camped in the city’s Liberty Square. “There was information that they planned to take provocative actions and provoke mass riots in the capital on March 1,” he said at a news conference.
Shirinian claimed that the protesters ignored police warnings to vacate the square and themselves attacked hundreds of riot police, interior troops and other security forces that were sent there early in the morning.
Ter-Petrosian and some eyewitnesses asserted, however, that the security forces did not issue any warnings before charging towards the crowd at about 7 o’clock in the morning. The former Armenian president, who was in the square throughout the melee, to leave said he urged the crowd to stay calm and not resort to violence moments before they were indiscriminately hit by truncheons and electric-shock equipment.
Both the police and senior government officials had repeatedly warned that the non-stop protest was not sanctioned by municipal authorities and can therefore broken up at any moment. However, the United States urged the authorities in Yerevan on Thursday not to use force.
Shirinian said that the police arrested “more than a dozen” opposition activists and are now hunting for other “participants and organizers of the disorder.” He also said several law-enforcement officials were injured during the police operation but could not give any numbers.