By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian authorities have banned the next rally planned by allies of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, while agreeing to let them hold an indoors conference this week, it emerged on Monday.
Thousands of Ter-Petrosian supporters gathered in a public park in Yerevan on April 19 in what was the first opposition demonstration sanctioned by the authorities in two months. Women For Peace, a small non-governmental organization that officially organized the protest, planned to hold another rally in the city’s Liberty Square on May 5 and applied to the Yerevan mayor’s office for a permission.
Gayane Martirosian, head of Women for Peace, told RFE/RL that the municipality turned down the application on the grounds that the pro-Ter-Petrosian group exceeded a two-hour limit set for its last gathering and allowed opposition figures to address the crowd. Martirosian said the municipality also told her that ban was recommended by Nerses Nazarian, chief of the Yerevan police.
Under controversial legal amendments passed by parliament last month, the police and the National Security Service can ban anti-government street protests practically at will. The authorities say the restrictions are needed for preventing a repeat of the March 1 clashes in Yerevan that left at least ten people dead. Nonetheless, they have agreed to ease the restrictions under pressure from the Council of Europe and Western governments.
“The authorities are afraid of our powerful popular demonstrations and the scale of the manifestation of popular will,” said Manushak Petrosian, a senior member of Ter-Petrosian’s opposition movement.
Petrosian announced at the same time that the authorities have allowed Ter-Petrosian and two dozen opposition groups supporting him to hold an indoors meeting in a government conference hall on Friday. She said they had previously twice refused to give such permission and relented only after the opposition decided to hold the gathering in Georgia’s capital Tbilisi.
“I consider this an achievement in the sense that the authorities were forced to make such a decision because the conference would have a greater international resonance if it was held abroad,” Petrosian told a news conference.
Ter-Petrosian loyalists claim to have been unable to hold roundtable discussions and other meetings in public and private conference halls, most of them located in major hotels, since the launch of the government crackdown on the opposition following the February 19 presidential election. Several such events organized were reportedly cancelled at the last minute by hotel administrations.