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Situation In Armenia Remains Tense

Washington, 13 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has expressed concern about the escalation of tension between Armenia's government and the opposition.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher criticized authorities in Yerevan for their crackdown on demonstrators calling for the resignation of Armenian President Robert Kocharian.

At the same time, the department called on both the authorities and the opposition to engage in dialogue and avoid any actions that could lead to violence or infringe on the right to peaceful assembly.

Using water canons, blank grenades, and truncheons, special police forces dispersed up to 3,000 demonstrators on Yerevan's main thoroughfare early today.

Armenia's Noyan Tapan news agency reported that 16 opposition activists were hospitalized after the raid and that several journalists were among the detainees.

Police also raided the offices of Armenia's main opposition parties during the night, detaining several activists.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sayat Shirinian blamed the opposition for the violence.

"Police repeatedly warned demonstrators that their unlawful actions would be met with adequate reaction if they were to continue," Shirinian said. "But, in spite of this, the transgressors went on for quite a long time with their antisocial actions. On top of this, in response to [our] warnings, they started moving menacingly toward police forces."

The opposition denied the claim, saying police charged the crowd without warning.