Authorities in Yerevan on Thursday refused to allow the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) to hold its next major rally in the city’s central Liberty Square and again suggested another venue for the protest.
The rally, scheduled for October 15, is part of the HAK’s renewed campaign of anti-government demonstrations launched on September 17. The opposition alliance led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian has been trying unsuccessfully to gather supporters in Liberty Square for the first time since the March 2008 post-election unrest.
The Yerevan municipality has until now turned down permission request lodged by the HAK on the grounds that the political gatherings would interfere with preparations for an annual festival held in the Armenian capital on October 10.
Dismissing the latest HAK applications, a senior municipality official, Grigor Melkumian, said the square facing the city’s sprawling Opera House can not be used for rallies because it is now the scene of children’s playground. “There are carousels and entertainment attractions all over the square, and that is done for children’s recreation,” he told opposition representatives. “Is this compatible with a rally? Of course not.”
Melkumian claimed that the entertainment attractions can not be temporarily moved out of the square for the duration of the rallies. “That’s not possible because transporting them is fraught with great difficulties,” he said. “You have to bring in vehicles, mobilize people.”
Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s central office coordinator, condemned the ban as illegal and politically motivated. Still, he said the opposition bloc will accept the municipal administration’s offer to stage the October 15 protest in another, smaller location in downtown Yerevan.
Speaking to RFE/RL’s Armenian service, Zurabian insisted at the same time that the HAK will continue “the process of re-conquering Liberty Square” by filing more applications with the Mayor’s Office and challenging their rejections in courts. HAK supporters will eventually defy the authorities and “enter the square,” he said without elaborating.