In what has become a pattern, police set up roadblocks on the highways leading to Yerevan, stopping buses, minibuses and even personal cars. An RFE/RL correspondent saw minibus passengers forced to get off several kilometers north of the city.
“I don’t know how to proceed to the city,” one of them complained. “I see no point in forcing people off the bus. We will reach our destination in one way or another.”
Also stopped was a car carrying a gravely ill man. “Hurry up,” woman in the car screamed at the police officers. “He is dying in the car,” she told RFE/RL. “They are not letting us through. They took away the car’s keys.” She seemed unaware that the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) will hold a rally in Yerevan, saying that the policemen are probably seeking a bribe.
“There was a reason for forcing them to get off,” said one of the officers. He claimed that the police are simply searching for weapons and drugs as part of a special operation ordered by the national police chief, Alik Sargsian. He denied that transport communication between Yerevan and the rest of the country is seriously restricted only ahead of opposition protests.
Another policeman held a notebook with about license numbers of about two dozen vehicles written in it. “We are not checking anyone,” he claimed. “We are just waiting for a bus.”
At a bus station in Masis, a small town 20 kilometers south of Yerevan, two women waited in vain for a bus together with their children. “We promised to take them to the zoo and an amusement park,” one of them told RFE/RL. “The authorities are not even letting us mark the children’s holiday. There have been no buses since the morning. What can we do?”
“They say buses are not running today because there is a demonstration in Yerevan,” said another Masis resident.
Police checkpoints could also be seen on a highway connecting Yerevan to Armenia’s second largest city of Gyumri. Police officers there likewise claimed to be cracking down on illegal arms possession and denied that they are helping the government lower attendance at the HAK rally.