The Armenian police avoided dispersing opposition supporters that continued to block the intersection of two key streets in central Yerevan on Saturday in protest against former President Serzh Sarkisian’s apparent efforts to extend his rule.
Several thousand people occupied the street sections forming the city’s France Square on Friday evening after a rally held by opposition leader Nikol Pashinian at adjacent Liberty Square. Pashinian said he and his associates will hold nonstop rallies at least until the April 17 election by the Armenian parliament of the country’s next prime minister.
Pashinian urged the crowd not to leave the square. Only 200 or so people remained camped there after midnight. Some of them sat on public benches pulled from nearby sidewalks, while others pitched tents on the asphalt.
There was virtually no police presence in or around the blocked street junction. In a statement issued on Friday evening, the police criticized the protest organizers for restricting other citizens’ freedom of movement and “not cooperating” with law-enforcement authorities and urged them not to “lose vigilance.”
Another police statement issued later in the evening, warned the protesters against taking “noisy actions” that would disturb residents of nearby buildings at night. Neither statement threatened the use of force against the protesters.
As of Saturday noon, the Armenian government and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) made no statements on Pashinian’s campaign. The HHK’s governing Council was due to officially nominate Serzh Sarkisian for prime minister at a meeting later in the day.
The meeting was originally expected to take place at the HHK headquarter in downtown Yerevan. Pashinian pledged on Friday to “blockade” the party building during that meeting.
Pashinian told reporters in the morning, however, that the ruling party’s leadership has decided to hold the meeting at a hotel in Tsaghkadzor, a resort town 60 kilometers north of the Armenian capital. He said a large group of opposition activists will head to Tsaghkadzor and picket the hotel in a convoy of cars late in the afternoon. He urged other Armenians to also join the procession and make it “very powerful.”
The HHK did not immediately confirm the change of the meeting venue.