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Next Opposition Protest In Yerevan Partly Sanctioned


Armenia -- Opposition supporters march through central Yerevan, 01Mar2009

The municipal authorities in Yerevan have allowed the Armenian opposition to rally supporters on May 1 but banned them from marching through the city center afterwards, it emerged on Monday.

The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) formally notified the Yerevan municipality about its next major demonstration in accordance with an Armenian law on public gatherings earlier this month.

A senior municipality official, Irina Grigorian, told RFE/RL that the HAK will not be allowed to hold a planned rally outside the Matenadaran institute of ancient manuscripts. “The holding of a march would significantly disrupt the normal life of the city of Yerevan, cause traffic jams and render central streets impassable,” she said.

Lyudmila Sargsian, a senior HAK member who filed the notification, rejected the ban as politically motivated and said the opposition alliance will defy it. “We staged marches even when our rallies were also banned,” she said.

Virtually none of the demonstrations held by the opposition over the past year was sanctioned by the authorities. Nonetheless, security forces refrained from breaking up those protests. The most recent HAK protest held on March 1 followed the same pattern.

Addressing thousands of supporters on that day, the HAK’s top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, said that the opposition will not seek to topple the government with a fresh campaign of street protests. According to Levon Zurabian, a top aide to Ter-Petrosian, the upcoming rally will focus on growing socioeconomic problems facing Armenia.

The rally is also expected to mark the start of the HAK’s campaign for the May 31 municipal elections that will determine who will be Yerevan’s next mayor. The HAK is the only opposition force contesting the polls. Its list of candidates is topped by Ter-Petrosian.

The planned opposition march will likely end on the city’s Northern Avenue which was scene of daily gatherings of small groups of Ter-Petrosian supporters. The police ended the “political strolls” two weeks ago by seriously restricting access to the boulevard after 6 p.m. Scuffles between police officers and opposition protesters trying to enter Northern Avenue have since been reported on a virtually daily basis.
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