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Armenian Opposition Leader Says Government Will Fall

Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian greets supporters rallying in Yerevan on March 1.
Opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian greets supporters rallying in Yerevan on March 1.
YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian has harshly criticized the country's leadership as thousands of his supporters marked the second anniversary of the deadly 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Speaking at the first major Armenian National Congress (HAK) rally in more than five months, Ter-Petrossian told the crowd on March 1 that President Serzh Sarkisian's government will eventually resign and hold fresh elections.

But he warned that frequent antigovernment demonstrations would be counterproductive in this situation.

"However safe the kleptocracy feels and however self-confident it pretends to be, it will crumble one day under the burden of a growing wave of popular upheaval and issues it is inherently unable to address," he said during his 50-minute speech. "And [Sarkisian] will be ripped apart by predators from his own entourage."

Ten people died and more than 200 others were injured in the violence sparked by the disputed February 2008 presidential election in which Ter-Petrossian was the main opposition candidate.

The Armenian authorities say the violent confrontation was caused by an opposition coup attempt. The HAK vehemently denies that charge, saying the authorities deliberately used deadly force to crush the nonstop demonstrations staged by Ter-Petrossian in the wake of the disputed ballot that brought Sarkisian to power.

Ter-Petrossian said his supporters should be prepared for the day when the government will resign "in order to minimize the country's losses and prevent the state from becoming unmanageable."

The crowd later marched through the city center to the scene of the clashes between opposition protesters and security forces that broke out on March 1, 2008.

Ter-Petrossian, 65, said in his speech that his opposition alliance has succeeded in disproving the official theory of the unrest in the eyes of the public and the international community. He said Sarkisian and his predecessor, Robert Kocharian, had themselves staged a coup d'etat after the "rigged" election.

Olive Branch Rescinded

Ter-Petrossian, who was president from 1991-98, indefinitely suspended regular antigovernment protests in September, saying that the HAK cannot topple Sarkisian without the backing of other major political groups.

In a landmark November speech, Ter-Petrossian expressed his readiness to recognize Sarkisian's legitimacy if the latter embarked on sweeping political reforms and freed all remaining "political prisoners." He also lambasted nationalist critics of Sarkisian's conciliatory policy on Turkey. Sarkisian has never responded to the statements from his most influential political foe.

But Ter-Petrossian on March 1 reverted to his scathing verbal attacks on the Sarkisian administration, decrying its "criminal essence" and alleged inability to "solve any problem facing the country."

He also denounced the Turkish-Armenian rapprochement as a "humiliating process" and accused Sarkisian of creating "the prospect of a disgraceful settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict."

The HAK leader went on to defend his cautious strategy against criticism from more radical opposition elements, saying that holding rallies too often only "lessens their impact."

One of Ter-Petrossian's closest associates, Levon Zurabian, likewise claimed that the Sarkisian administration will eventually have no option but to call snap presidential and parliamentary elections because of what he described as its mounting foreign and domestic policy failures.

He said the fact that the authorities again seriously restricted transport between Yerevan and the rest of the country on March 1 in an attempt to keep opposition supporters from attending the rally shows that they were "terrified" of the HAK.

Zurabian announced that the HAK would hold its next major rally on April 6. Zurabian said it was timed to coincide with an international human rights conference to be held in Yerevan.