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Armenian Police Force Protesters From Reopened Square

Police confront opposition protesters in Yerevan.
Police confront opposition protesters in Yerevan.
YEREVAN -- Armenian police used force to stop an opposition protest in a central Yerevan square that recently reopened after remaining closed to the public for nearly two years, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

A dozen activists gathered near one of the statues in Liberty Square on May 28 to protest "human rights violations" in Armenia and to call for "an end to torture in the army and prisons," including against several jailed opposition members.

They also held banners demanding the government allow an independent television company that was controversially taken off the air eight years ago to resume broadcasts.

Acting on orders of Colonel Robert Melkonian, the chief of the police's patrol service, police pushed some of the protesters in an attempt to remove them from the square. They managed to force several activists to move across the street after telling them their protest was disturbing public order.

But the opposition activists later returned to Liberty Square to continue their protest.

This was the first time opposition members attempted to hold a political gathering in the square after public access to it was allowed again on May 25, 21 months after it was closed due to the construction of a large underground parking garage.

Work on that project began several months after the violent dispersal of an opposition tent camp protesting the outcome of a disputed presidential election. The opposition has insisted that the decision to build the parking garage was aimed at preventing its members from staging more rallies in the square which, since the anti-Soviet demonstrations in the late 1980s, has been a traditional place for political gatherings.

The government rejects the accusations.

While the square was closed, activists and supporters of the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) staged their protests in an adjacent street, where they would also routinely come across police restrictions resulting in scuffles.

Dozens of opposition protesters on the street had been detained by police in the past two years, with criminal cases being brought against some of them.

Despite the police action, opposition member Vardges Gaspari and 10 other activists remained in the square late into the evening.

"We won freedom in 1988. We will never again allow this freedom to be trampled upon," Gaspari told RFE/RL.

A senior HAK member told RFE/RL on May 24 that the Armenian opposition would seek to stage its next rally in the reopened Liberty Square.

"Liberty Square is the cradle of Armenian democracy, because all democratic achievements [in Armenia] began there. And I think we should stage our next public rally in Liberty Square," the HAK's Levon Zurabian said.

He did not say when such a rally would be held.