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Armenian Authorities Move Opposition Rally

An injured woman at the "political walk"

An injured woman at the "political walk"

All eyes on tomorrow's opposition rally in Armenia's capital. The city authorities have banned the rally in downtown Yerevan, instead offering a sports stadium far outside the city center. The opposition, however, has said it will defy the ban.

Things began to heat up on July 2, when around 50 young people harassed opposition supporters taking part in a "political walk." Two people were hospitalized. The opposition, led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, claims the attacks were organized by the authorities, citing the fact that police didn't try to prevent the clashes. Police denied the charge that they didn't intervene deliberately and said they did not have enough manpower.

The authorities will likely be on their best behavior after the March postelection violence. But there does seem to be some confusion within the ruling elite on whether banning opposition rallies is a good thing, or not. The leading member of the ruling Republican Party, David Harutiunian -- who is also the head of Armenia's parliamentary delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) -- has criticized the city authorities for banning the rally, advising the city to follow a PACE resolution that prohibits banning rallies.

But, as most postcommunist governments know, if you can't ban them, you can move them -- to sports stadiums, disused airstrips, or warehouse complexes on the edge of town -- and thus minimize their impact. Or set up a clash as protesters "violate" a ban. As Richard Giragosian argues in a recent piece, Armenia is emerging from years of political apathy and has a long, hot, and volatile summer ahead of it.

-- Hrair Tamrazian

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