Police in Armenia made 13 arrests early on Thursday after clashing overnight with residents of the northern Tavush province who protested against a government ban on logging in the area.
Several hundred protesters blocked on Wednesday a highway passing through the provincial capital Ijevan to demand that the authorities stop preventing them from cutting and selling wood from nearby forests. They said logging is their sole source of income.
Riot police used force after the protesters refused to unblock the highway leading to the main Armenian-Georgian border crossing.
Police officers were pelted with stones and hit by sticks during the clashes. Eleven of them required hospitalization, according to a spokesman for the Armenian police. At least one injured civilian also received medical assistance in a local hospital.
Traffic through the busy road resumed after police reinforcements were sent to Ijevan.The national police chief, Valeri Osipian, also rushed to the town close to the Georgian and Azerbaijani borders on Wednesday night. Osipian remained there as of Thursday afternoon.
A spokeswoman for Armenia’s Investigative Committee, Naira Harutiunian, said dozens of people were taken for questioning following the violence. Thirteen of them were placed under arrest on suspicion of hooliganism and resistance to law-enforcement authorities, while six others signed written pledges not to leave their places of residence pending investigation, Harutiunian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
One of Osipian’s deputies, Vartan Movsisian, said the police are now trying to track down and arrest other violent protesters.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian condemned the unrest in Ijevan, his hometown, as he chaired a weekly cabinet meeting in Yerevan. “Those responsible for yesterday’s events as well as the organizers of illegal logging must be strictly punished,” said Pashinian.
“We will be halting illegal logging in the most resolute manner,” he added.
Pashinian also posted on his Facebook page video of Osipian addressing and praising police officers lined up in an Ijevan square on Thursday morning.
“We will not be lenient towards anyone,” said the police chief. “Everyone must receive a punishment for their deeds envisaged by the law.”