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Yerevan Roads Blocked Ahead Of Opposition Rally


Traffic police stop cars on Gyumri - Yerevan road. 01May2009

In what has become a pattern, the Armenian authorities again seriously restricted transport communication between Yerevan and the rest of the country ahead of an opposition rally in the capital on Friday.

Traveling to Yerevan appeared to be highly problematic throughout the day, with very few buses seen entering the city and police putting roadblocks on the main highways leading to it.

Buses and minibuses were absent from bus stations across Yerevan already in the morning. “They say they are not letting buses in because there will be a rally today,” one man who planned to travel to the northern Lori region told RFE/RL at one of those stations.

“No buses have arrived from the regions,” said another commuter. “They want make sure people from the regions don’t go to the rally.”

At another bus station a group of young men, who did not identify themselves, forced an RFE/RL correspondent and a cameraman to stop filming and interviewing drivers and other personnel. “Leave this area,” one of them said. “This is private property.”

A uniformed police officer standing by refused to intervene. “I’m busy talking,” he said when approached by the correspondent. “You are disturbing me. Be patient.”

In Abovian, a town 15 kilometers north of Yerevan, one woman claimed to have had to take a taxi in the capital after waiting for a bus in vain. The owner of a regional bus service, who identified himself as Rafik, admitted telling his drivers not to show up for work on Friday. “Ask them why they are not letting cars through. What can I do?” he said, referring to the police.

Police officers could be seen stopping and checking many cars leaving Abovian. “We search suspicious cars for weapons and ammunition,” one of them said. “This is also a prophylactic measure,” said another policeman.

Similar roadblocks were also set up outside Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri. An RFE/RL correspondent there saw only empty buses on the local highway leading to Yerevan.

Officers at the roadblock denied any connection between the security measure and the anti-government rally held by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK). “What rally?” asked one of them.

Colonel Sayat Shirinian, the chief spokesman for the national police, insisted that the authorities are not trying to lower attendance at the rally. “We are not closing any roads,” he told RFE/RL. “We are not hampering anyone. People are free to move and take part in today’s rally.”

But bus drivers told a different story. One of them, who did not want to give his name, said he was stopped by the police while driving to Yerevan from Dilijan, a resort town about 100 kilometers to the north. “They said I have no right to take people [to Yerevan,]” he told RFE/RL, adding he had to drop off all of his four passengers.

“They went into the city on foot,” said the driver. “One of them was a student, another an elderly woman going to the airport.”

“We reach the nearest police post and turn back,” said another driver.

Traveling to Yerevan from another northern town, Vanadzor, was no easy task either. Drivers there told commuters that the earliest bus ride to the capital will start at 5 p.m. The opposition rally was scheduled for 3 p.m.

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