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Armenian Opposition Prepares For Renewed Public Protest

Eight people died on March 1, 2008, in clashes between protesters and police.
Eight people died on March 1, 2008, in clashes between protesters and police.
The Armenian National Congress (HAK), the umbrella movement uniting more than a dozen political parties and groups that support former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, has officially announced its intention to resume the public rallies that Ter-Petrossian suspended in October 2008.

Leading HAK member David Shahnazarian, who served in the early 1990s as Ter-Petrossian's national security adviser, told RFE/RL on February 9 that the HAK submitted to the Yerevan municipal authorities a request to hold a such a rally on March 1, the first anniversary of the violent clashes in Yerevan between Ter-Petrossian supporters and police and security forces in the wake of the disputed presidential ballot. Ter-Petrossian, who according to official returns polled second with 25.65 percent of the vote, continues to insist that the election outcome was rigged to secure a handover of power from Robert Kocharian to his prime minister, Serzh Sarkisian.

The municipal authorities rejected the request to hold the rally outside the Matenadaran institute of ancient manuscripts, but proposed an alternative venue outside the city center. That decision was reportedly communicated late on February 11 to the opposition Hanrapetutiun party, which had filed the request on behalf of the HAK. But Hanrapetutiun representative Artak Zeynalian told RFE/RL on February 12 that the party did not receive any such written notification from the mayor's office within the 72-hour deadline for issuing a response, and therefore considers that the request to hold the rally in front of the Matenadaran has been approved.

Shahnazarian had told RFE/RL on February 9 that "the rally will take place regardless of whether or not the authorities allow it." He added that police across the country have been summoning HAK activists and warning them not to attend the rally.

In a possible indication of official nervousness at the prospect of a huge turnout that would underscore the extent of popular support for the former president, Razmik Zohrabian, a leading member of President Sarkisian's Republican Party, told journalists on February 9 that people go to opposition rallies primarily because the opposition has no chance to publicize its views on television. Therefore, Zohrabian argued, government-controlled television channels should give greater coverage to opposition viewpoints.

The daily "Hayots ashkhar" reported on February 7 that the HAK has begun distributing leaflets to its supporters warning them not only against arguing with or insulting police officers during the March 1 protest rally, but to avoid any contact at all with law enforcement representatives. "Haykakan zhamanak" reported the same day that Ter-Petrossian has asked the opposition parties affiliated with the HAK to propose what further actions the opposition should undertake after March 1.

About This Blog

This blog presents analyst Liz Fuller's personal take on events in the region, following on from her work in the "RFE/RL Caucasus Report." It also aims, to borrow a metaphor from Tom de Waal, to act as a smoke detector, focusing attention on potential conflict situations and crises throughout the region. The views are the author's own and do not represent those of RFE/RL.


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