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Three Held After Armenian Opposition Supporters, Police Scuffle

Armenian police detain an opposition supporter near Yerevan's Liberty Square.

Armenian police detain an opposition supporter near Yerevan's Liberty Square.

YEREVAN -- Three people have been put under arrest after scuffles between Armenian police and opposition supporters trying to enter a Yerevan square that has traditionally been the country's main venue for political gatherings, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Some 50 supporters of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) clashed on May 31 with riot police as the demonstrators attempted to enter Liberty Square in downtown Yerevan.

More than a dozen of them were forced into police vans and driven to a nearby police station. Also detained on the spot were three journalists working for newspapers critical of the Armenian government.

All but three of those arrested were set free several hours later. The police department of Yerevan's central Kentron district declined to give precise reasons for detaining them.

Two HAK supporters and a journalist, Ani Gevorgian of the pro-opposition daily "Haykakan zhamanak," remain in police custody.

Colonel Robert Melkonian, the chief of the national riot police, defended the use of force. "They are coming in groups to stage protests here. What for?" he told RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

"These people have the right to rest," Melkonian said, pointing to other Yerevan residents who were allowed into the square. "See, there are more than 100 people enjoying themselves here. There are whole families, children."

The square facing the city's massive Opera House was reopened late last week, 21 months after it was closed due to the construction of a large underground parking garage beneath the plaza. President Serzh Sarkisian personally inaugurated the new facility together with top executives of the Italian company that built it.

Small groups of HAK activists and supporters have tried unsuccessfully to gather at Liberty Square since May 28. Six of them, including the HAK's foreign-policy spokesman, Vladimir Karapetian, were detained by police for several hours on May 30.

Karapetian denounced the arrests as illegal and insisted the oppositionists did not intend to hold a demonstration there. "We just wanted to stroll there," he told RFE/RL before the confrontation.

A police statement said Karapetian was taken to the Kentron police headquarters because he had urged passersby to hold an unsanctioned rally. It also claimed that six other oppositionists had shouted abuse at police officers.

Liberty Square was the site of a 10-day nonstop demonstration organized by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian following the disputed presidential election in February 2008.

A predawn police assault on an opposition tent camp there sparked clashes between opposition protesters and security forces elsewhere in central Yerevan on March 1, 2008. Ten people were killed and more than 200 others injured in the violence.

The square was dug up and closed to the public several months later. The Ter-Petrossian-led opposition has had to rally supporters in a less convenient, smaller square since then.