By Ruzanna Stepanian
The Armenian authorities have refused to authorize a widely anticipated rally which former President Levon Ter-Petrosian plans to hold in Yerevan on June 20, a top aide to the opposition leader said on Thursday.
Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by Ter-Petrosian formally notified the Yerevan municipality on Tuesday about its intention to rally supporters in the central Liberty Square for the first time since the bloody break-up on March 1 of its post-election street protests. Under Armenia’s law on public gatherings, the municipality must sanction or ban the protest within 72 hours.
“According to my information, the rally has been banned,” Levon Zurabian, a leading member of Ter-Petrosian’s Popular Movement, told RFE/RL. “I still don’t have a written copy of the decision. But we had a discussion in the mayor’s office this morning and it emerged that the grounds for the ban presented by the mayor’s office are absolutely illegal.”
Zurabian said municipality officials argued that they too plan to hold an unspecified event in Liberty Square on the same day and that it will go ahead despite the opposition plans. In his words, opposition representatives suggested another venue for the rally in downtown Yerevan but that proposal “seems to have been rejected too.”
The press service of Yerevan Mayor Yervand Zakharian declined to confirm or the claims.
Ter-Petrosian has made clear through his associates that he will urge supporters to take to the streets even if the protest is not sanctioned by the authorities. Zurabian reaffirmed the ex-president’s intention to defy a possible government ban.
“Tomorrow we will give the authorities another chance and file another application,” he said. “Our intention is clear. Whatever the position of the authorities, we will hold our rally.”
“Whether or not they allow the rally, people will assemble,” said Stepan Demirchian, another opposition leader allied to Ter-Petrosian. “We must do everything to make sure the rally is peaceful.”
The municipal authorities have rejected just about every rally permission request filed by the Ter-Petrosian camp since the March 1 street clashes in Yerevan that left at least ten people dead and more 100 others injured. They have based those decisions on controversial amendments to the law on rallies that were passed by the Armenian parliament following the deadly violence. They allowed the authorities to ban opposition protests practically at will.
The Armenian parliament on Wednesday eased some of the restrictions on freedom of assembly under pressure from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) and other international bodies.
The planned opposition rally will come three days before the start of the next PACE session in Strasbourg. The assembly is expected to discuss Yerevan’s compliance with its resolution on the political situation in Armenia adopted in April.