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New Justice Minister Warns Backers Of Jailed Opposition Gunmen


Armenia - Supporters of jailed members of an armed opposition group block a street in Yerevan, 16 May 2018.

Justice Minister Artak Zeynalian on Friday urged supporters of an armed opposition group that seized a police station in Yerevan in 2016 to avoid destabilizing the situation in Armenia in the wake of what he called a democratic revolution.

In recent days, several dozen people blocked a major street and a court building in the Armenian capital to demand the immediate release of the three dozen gunmen standing three separate trials on criminal charges stemming from their July 2016 standoff with security forces which left three police officers dead.

They unblocked the street on Thursday following an appeal from Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian. The latter said these and other disruptive protests held across the country are “not understandable” after the success of his “velvet revolution.”

Zeynalian, who was appointed as justice minister last week, echoed the statements by Pashinian as well as former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, saying that “an atmosphere of lawlessness could ruin the country.”

“Everyone must be conscious of their actions and make sure that they don’t damage the common interest,” he told a news conference. “This revolution is a unique revolution for the world and each of us is responsible for it. If something crosses our mind then we must not exclude that it may contradict others’ opinions.”

Armenia - Artak Zeynalian of the opposition Yelk bloc at a parliament session in Yerevan, 12Dec2017.
Armenia - Artak Zeynalian of the opposition Yelk bloc at a parliament session in Yerevan, 12Dec2017.

While unblocking Yerevan’s Arshakuniats Avenue, the radical protesters continued to surround on Friday a nearby court building where hearings are held in the ongoing trial of the ten leading members of the armed group. They thus prevented security forces from transporting the defendants back to their prisons.

Representatives of the protesters met with Pashinian late on Thursday. Details of the meeting were not immediately made public.

Pashinian, who was elected prime minister by the parliament on May 8, reiterated earlier this week that one of his immediate tasks is to secure the release of all “political prisoners” through solely legal mechanisms. But he said the case of the gunmen that had seized a police base in Yerevan’s Erebuni district is “a bit different” because of the three police casualties. He said it must be resolved as a result of public “discussions” that must involve relatives of the three slain policemen.

The leader of the gunmen, Varuzhan Avetisian, condemned Pashinian’s remarks as “buffoonery” and “false humanism” in the courtroom on Wednesday. He again strongly defended the 2016 attack, saying that casualties are inevitable during such “rebellions.”

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