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Armenia: Reporters Cite Anger, Fear Of Persecution In Wake Of Clashes

Correspondent Ruzanna Stepanyan outside the French Embassy in Yerevan (Courtesy Photo) On the morning of March 1, RFE/RL Armenian Service correspondent Ruzanna Stepanyan was reporting from Opera Square in central Yerevan, as police used truncheons, tear gas, and electric stun guns in an attempt to disperse hundreds of opposition demonstrators.

"I talked with approximately 20 or 30 people who had been beaten, who simply didn't have any way to escape," said Stepanyan, an eight-year veteran of RFE/RL. "Many people had head and face wounds."

By midday, the crowd had swelled to thousands of people, and had moved to a nearby street in front of the French Embassy -- where, Stepanyan said, protesters thought the police would be more reluctant to use force against the public. But clashes once again broke out.

"It was impossible to disperse the rally, because people were very, very angry about the violence earlier in the day," Stepanyan said. "The police and the demonstrators started to fight each other; the demonstrators fought with whatever they had -- stones, pieces of metal. I was caught in the middle, between the two sides; there was no way for me to get out. I felt that it was the end, that there was no way for me to escape."

Many of the policemen were oblivious to the journalists who were caught in the middle of the clashes, but one eventually helped Stepanyan to move out of danger. Her driver was badly beaten.

That evening, Armenian President Robert Kocharian imposed a state of emergency. But it wasn't sufficient to prevent a final clash from escalating into gunfire, reportedly resulting in the deaths of seven civilians and a policeman.

"I've never seen such a situation in Armenia, where people hate each other so much that they are reduced to beating each other in a completely inhuman fashion," Stepanyan said. "They're all Armenians; they're all citizens. They simply didn't realize what they were doing, because it was such a tense situation. There were people who had been really badly injured, and they wanted revenge."

A second correspondent, Karine Simonian, has been reporting on the crisis from the city of Vanadzor in northern Armenia. She says the state of emergency, which imposes strict limitations on non-state media, has made reporting extremely difficult.

"I can't record interviews; access to information is extremely hard to get," she said. "I've tried just speaking to people informally, but they've refused to speak to me, saying they're afraid of being persecuted by the authorities." Simonian said local police have also broken up several interviews. "People are simply afraid to say anything," she added.

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

RFE/RL Caucasus Report

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