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Armenian Opposition To Press Ahead With Sit-In

The activists have said they stage the sit-in on Liberty Square
The activists have said they stage the sit-in on Liberty Square
YEREVAN -- Opposition activists have said they will proceed with plans to stage a sit-in in cental Yerevan on June 18 to demand the release of imprisoned opposition figures, RFE/RL Armenian Service reports.

The Committee to Protect Political Prisoners, which is linked to the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), notified the Yerevan mayor's office last week of its intention to organize a protest on June 18. The city refused to approve the protest, saying that Liberty Square had been reserved for a children's festival.

The refusal led the opposition alliance to downscale the protest to take advantage of a legal loophole permitting public gatherings of less than 100 people without the city's approval.

Davit Matevosian, a senior HAK member, told RFE/RL that the sit-in will involve only 30 participants. He said all are former political prisoners arrested in the wake of the controversial February 2008 presidential election. More than a dozen HAK leaders and supporters remain imprisoned on charges mostly stemming from the violence that followed the presidential election.

Matevosian described those still imprisoned as government "hostages." "Our friends remain in jail, and we want to protest against that," he said, adding that any police attempt to prevent protesters from entering the square would violate the law.

Colonel Sayad Shirinian, a spokesman for the police, declined to say whether police will try to prevent the sit-in. "If there are instances of disruption of public order, it is our duty to intervene," he told RFE/RL.

Asked what the police will do if protesters behave peacefully, Shirinian said, "The situation itself will dictate what measures we should take."

The square had served as the main venue for political gatherings in Armenia until it was closed in mid-2008 due to the construction of a large underground parking garage. Small groups of HAK activists attempted to gather there for several consecutive days immediately after it was reopened to the public last month.