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Armenian Opposition Plans Fresh Protests

Yerevan, 14 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Opposition leaders in Armenia say the forceful dispersal by police of a peaceful demonstration on 13 April has underscored the need for further protests against President Robert Kocharian.

Sharvash Kocharian was one of two members of parliament detained by police and later released. He said today that fresh protests calling for a referendum on removing the president from office are planned for 16 April.

Dozens of people reportedly were injured when police broke up a gathering of about 2,000 outside the presidential palace in the capital Yerevan.

The country's official ombudsman has questioned the legality of the police action, but the government defended it and blamed the protesters for violence.

The U.S. State Department has expressed concern about the tensions and urged the two sides to enter into a dialogue.

The opposition accuses Kocharian of irregularities in balloting that resulted in his re-election in early 2003, and the country's Constitutional Court concluded in April 2003 that a referendum should be held within one year to evaluate Armenia's political leadership. The president says he considers the rallies against him "an act of political extremism."