By Ruzanna Stepanian and Ruben MeloyanFormer President Levon Ter-Petrosian again rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Friday in what was the first gathering of the opposition since the bloody break-up of its post-election protests.
The rally was staged in an area near Matenadaran, an ancient manuscripts depositary located in downtown Yerevan. Earlier, police in riot gear had attempted to seal off the area not to allow opposition supporters access to the venue where their rally had not been authorized by Yerevan authorities.
Opposition demonstrators started to chant Levon! Levon! in response to police demands to clear the area.
Earlier, police officials had warned that the opposition would not be allowed to gather in an unauthorized venue.
The municipality had refused to authorize the opposition’s rally either in central Liberty Square or in an area adjacent to Matenadaran. Instead, the city authorities had suggested the opposition should gather near the capital’s largest football arena just off the city center. The opposition, however, rejected that offer as unreasonable.
As a result of negotiations between opposition representatives, including Levon Ter-Petrosian’s top aide Levon Zurabian, and deputy chief of police Aleksandr Afian, the latter gave the go-ahead for opposition supporters to move up to the area and start their rally.
Speaking to RFE/RL, Afian explained his decision by the circumstance that demonstrators had blocked street traffic “violating the rights of other individuals”, after which, he said, a decision was made to allow people to go up towards Matenadaran.
The rally came three days before the start of the summer session of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in Strasbourg where the organization is expected to discuss Yerevan’s compliance with its mid-April resolution on the political situation in Armenia.
Aram Sarkisian, the leader of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party, estimated the number of rally participants at some 50,000. In contrast, Yerevan police put that number at no more than 10,000.
Levon Ter-Petrosian and other prominent opposition leaders were expected to address the rally that started with a two-hour delay (at about 8 pm) and would last four hours.