Public transport between Yerevan and nearby regions ground to a halt on Tuesday in what appeared to be a government effort to lower attendance at a major rally to be held by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK).
Bus stations in small towns close to the capital effectively stood idle in the morning and early afternoon, leaving scores of local commuters stranded. Many of them work or study in Yerevan.
“I’m going to visit a doctor but there is no transport and I don’t know how I will go there,” said one woman waiting at the bus station in Echmiadzin.
“I decided to go to Yerevan at 10 a.m. for the rally,” another local resident told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “There have been no minibuses here at the bus station since 10 a.m. I’m still waiting.” He said he can not afford a taxi ride.
An official at the bus station confirmed that all buses and minibuses were deliberately pulled out of service for the day. He refused to explain why.
“They say they closed the roads because there will be a rally in Yerevan,” said one man standing nearby.
A very similar picture could be observed in the nearby towns of Masis and Artashat. Police officers were present at local bus stations, and even taxis were hard to come by.
Police patrols were also deployed on major roads leading to Yerevan. One patrol commander told RFE/RL’s Armenian service that this is part of a special police operation aimed at tracking down stolen cars. Another officer claimed that the police are looking for weapons.
Law-enforcement authorities gave similar reasons for their heightened presence on the highways ahead of rallies held by the opposition HAK in the past. Both they and government officials denied opposition claims that the authorities are thus trying to keep many Armenians from joining anti-government demonstrators in Yerevan.
There was no apparent disruption on Tuesday in transport communication between the capital and more remote parts of the country, including the second largest city of Gyumri.