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Armenian Opposition Bloc To Resume Protest Rallies

Levon Zurabian, a leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress
YEREVAN -- The main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) says it will resume regular rallies in Yerevan on February 18 aimed at unseating the country's "illegitimate, incompetent, and corrupt" government, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

"February 19 is a day that carries a symbolic meaning because the [presidential] elections of both 2003 and 2008 were rigged on that day," the HAK's central coordinator, Levon Zurabian, said, adding that this was the reason the day before was chosen.

Zurabian said the opposition alliance would try to rally supporters in Yerevan's Liberty Square, the scene of massive antigovernment demonstrations held by its top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, in the wake of the 2008 ballot.

But Zurabian did not say what the HAK would do if city authorities refused to sanction the rally in that venue.

The square has been off-limits to the Ter-Petrossian-led opposition ever since the bloody suppression of its postelection protests in March 2008. Yerevan officials repeatedly banned opposition gatherings planned for the square last year.

The HAK did not defy those bans and staged protests elsewhere in the city center. Its most recent major rally was held on November 9.

Zurabian said the HAK believed the holding of early presidential and parliamentary elections, its key aim, is still possible.

"A popular revolt is imminent for socioeconomic reasons," he said. "In this situation, the only adequate approach would be radical reforms. But instead of carrying out such reforms, the authorities are further escalating the situation with their convulsive actions."

Zurabian pointed to a recent series of unpopular government decisions that triggered angry protests by street traders and other small entrepreneurs. He said the HAK backs their demands, but thinks they should "politicize" their struggle if they are to achieve any results.

ALM Protests

Also planning a campaign of antigovernment protests next month is Tigran Karapetian, the outspoken owner of ALM television, which was controversially taken off the air last week.

Karapetian has threatened to campaign for a change in Armenia's leadership if the authorities fail to meet a long list of his demands by February 28.

Thousands of people attended Karapetian's Yerevan rallies this month.

In an apparent reference to Karapetian, Zurabian questioned the opposition credentials of other political groups criticizing the government.

"If the authorities don't block roads [leading to Yerevan] on rally days, that means you don't deal with a real opposition," he said. "If they block, then it's a real opposition."