The clashes broke out late on Friday after riot police did not allow thousands of opposition supporters to approach the parliament building in Yerevan on the 34th day of nonstop anti-government protests.
The police fired stun grenades as some of the protesters tried to break through a police cordon in chaotic scenes that left at least 60 people injured. One of them, a protester, suffered a severe head injury and underwent surgery.
According to law-enforcement authorities, 40 police officers received medical assistance in hospitals after being pelted with bottles, stones and other objects and assaulted by demonstrators.
The Investigative Committee launched a criminal inquiry into “mass disturbances” which it said were provoked by unnamed opposition leaders. It did not say whether it will prosecute any of those leaders.
The committee brought instead criminal charges against most of at least 13 protesters arrested during or after the clashes. It said that they did not obey police orders and resorted to violence.
Armenian courts freed several detainees, including opposition activist Vahe Harutiunian, over the weekend and on Monday, citing a lack of incriminating evidence.
Vahe Yeprikian, a lawyer representing Harutiunian and two other protesters, who remained under arrest, said investigators did not present any video evidence corroborating the accusations leveled against his clients.
Opposition leaders condemned the use of force as excessive and unjustified. They singled out the use of stun grenades, saying that policemen mishandled them and wounded their own colleagues.
“Those who fired [the stun grenades] and their commanders should be tried or beaten up by other policemen for the fact that they are so unprofessional that they didn’t learn how to use those special means,” said Gegham Manukian of the main opposition Hayastan alliance.
The police insisted that only two officers were injured by stun grenades and that other dozens of others were attacked by angry protesters. They also released on Monday a fresh video of the clashes meant to justify the crackdown.
The police did not comment on other videos posted on social media which showed several policemen punching protesters as the latter were dragged away and arrested by other officers. None of those policemen was placed under investigation as of Monday evening.
Meanwhile, Armenia’s Office of the Prosecutor-General said it has ordered an inquiry into the use of stun grenades and other instances of police brutality alleged by the opposition.
Opposition leaders demanded such an inquiry as they again rallied thousands of supporters in the center of Yerevan. One of them, Ishkhan Saghatelian, said the protests will continue in the days ahead. He said their organizers are now discussing “tactical changes” designed to “give us new impetus and expand our movement.”