Several hundred supporters of a newly organized Armenian opposition group rallied in Yerevan to mark the one-year anniversary of the death of an activist who had been arrested for aiding antigovernment gunmen during a standoff with security forces.
The rally in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on March 16 was organized by the Front for the State of Armenia, which has called for opposition unity to force the creation of a provisional government and the release of political prisoners.
Speakers at the rally highlighted the case of Artur Sarkisian, 49, who died of heart failure on March 16, 2017, just days after being released from prison following a 25-day hunger strike.
Sarkisian had been jailed on charges of aiding armed members of a radical opposition group by delivering food to the gunmen during a two-week standoff with security forces in the summer of 2016.
In the incident, some 30 armed members of the group took hostages and barricaded themselves inside a police station. They eventually surrendered, but not until two police officers were killed and several injured during the standoff.
Rally speakers also callied for a combined effort by opposition groups to prevent outgoing President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) from staying in power as prime minister after he completes his second and final term on April 9.
Following a referendum in December 2015, Armenia changed its form of government from a semipresidential to a parliamentary republic.
Skeptics see the constitutional reforms as a way for Sarkisian to maintain political control in Armenia by becoming prime minister when the mandate for his presidential term expires.