Angry demonstrations against Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian’s rule continued unabated in Yerevan on Saturday despite fresh mass detentions of their participants.
Thousands of people again took to the streets of Armenia’s capital and other towns to demand that Sarkisian step down after having governed the county as president for ten years. Security forces again scrambled to stop them from blocking streets ahead of yet another big rally which the protest leader, Nikol Pashinian, planned to hold in the city’s central Republic Square in the evening.
A police spokesman said that at least 93 people were taken into police custody as of 4 p.m. local time. The detainees included Armen Grigorian, a civic activist actively involved in the protests. Amateur video posted on Facebook showed that he was detained inside a Yerevan café.
The police issued fresh statements on Saturday, saying that street blockades and other unsanctioned gatherings are illegal and can be dispersed. Neither these warnings nor the detentions seemed to contain the wave of protesters.
There were chaotic scenes on two major street intersections in downtown Yerevan which hundreds of opposition supporters persistently tried to block. A number of people did that by parking their cars in the middle of the roads. One of those drivers, a young man, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that he is “against Serzh” and wants to have a “bright future.”
Police detained several other drivers and impounded their cars as they repeatedly unblocked traffic through. Mashtots Avenue, one of central Yerevan’s main arteries.
Earlier in the day, traders working at a big retail market in the western Malatia district went on strike and marched to the city center to voice support for the unprecedented campaign for Sarkisian’s resignation. Several of them were detained in the process.
Meanwhile, Pashinian himself led a bigger crowd marching through the northern Nor Nork, Avan and Zeytun districts. He said “hundreds of thousands” of Armenians should rally on Republic Square at 7 p.m.
The more than weeklong protests on Saturday spread to Echmiadzin, a small town about 15 kilometers west of Yerevan. More than a thousand people rallied there before heading to Yerevan on foot in the afternoon.
In an apparent bid to stop people from Echmiadzin and nearby villages from reaching the capital, government loyalists led by Arakel Movsisian, a controversial former parliamentarian, blocked a highway with heavy trucks commandeered by them. One of the truck drivers was dragged away and forced into a nearby compound on Movsisian’s orders. Police officers at the scene did not intervene.