Protestors on February 20

Dozens Detained At Anti-Government Protest In Yerevan

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — Dozens of members and supporters of an Armenian opposition alliance were detained on Tuesday, February 23, as they attempted to stop Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan from entering a government building in Yerevan.

The Homeland Salvation Movement alliance had urged supporters to surround the building that houses several government ministers as part of its ongoing campaign of street protests aimed at forcing Pashinyan to resign.

The high-rise was cordoned off in the morning by scores of riot police that kept protesters at bay and enabled Pashinyan to enter it and hold a meeting with senior officials from the Armenian Ministry of Environment.

More than 50 protesters were detained on the spot. Gegham Manukyan, a senior opposition figure, claimed that the police made more than 100 arrests.

Manukyan said security forces tried unsuccessfully to detain Ishkhan Saghatelyan, who coordinates the opposition movement’s day-to-day activities. “We didn’t let them do that,” he told reporters.

According to eyewitnesses, Saghatelyan was injured in an apparent scuffle with the riot police.

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Manukyan insisted that the latest opposition protest was not a failure. He argued that Pashinyan had to “bring in several thousand police officers to be able to walk 200 meters in the city.”

The Homeland Salvation Movement, which comprises more than a dozen opposition parties, blames Pashinyan for Armenia’s defeat in the autumn war in Nagorno-Karabakh and wants him to resign. The prime minister has rejected the opposition demands, leading the alliance to resume its anti-government protests on Saturday.

Saghatelyan and other opposition leaders have pledged to hold daily demonstrations this week in a bid to step up the pressure on Pashinyan. They and their supporters were due to again march through the center of Yerevan later on Tuesday.

Traffic was brought to a standstill in much of central Yerevan on Saturday, February 20, as an alliance of more than a dozen Armenian opposition parties resumed street protests.

At the organizers’ urging, the protesters split and marched in four different directions after the rally, chanting “Armenia without Nikol!” and blocking major street intersections in the city center. Riot police did not attempt to disperse them and guarded key government buildings instead.

The opposition alliance blames Pashinyan for Armenia’s defeat in the six-week war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10. It staged a series of demonstrations later in November and December in a bid to force him to hand over power to an interim government.

Those protests did not attract large crowds, leading Pashinyan to insist that he still has a popular mandate to govern the country.

The prime minister also expressed readiness on December 25 to hold snap parliamentary elections to end the political crisis in the country. Opposition leaders continued to insist on his resignation.

The ruling My Step bloc pointed to the opposition stance when it stated on February 7 that Pashinyan and his allies see no need to dissolve the current parliament. It also claimed that most Armenians do not want snap elections. The Homeland Salvation Movement announced afterwards its decision to resume anti-government rallies.

“As long as there are upheavals there will be no development in our country. If they don’t resign things will get even worse,” Gagik Tsarukyan, the leader of the movement’s largest party, Prosperous Armenia, said in a speech delivered during the Liberty Square rally.

“Armenia must boil. There must be daily rallies. The city must be paralyzed,” said Vazgen Manukyan, another opposition leader whom the alliance wants to take over as a caretaker prime minister after Pashinyan’s resignation.

Manukyan also declared that the opposition should be prepared to mount an “uprising” if it fails to topple Pashinyan with conventional street protests. “We will follow Plan A but must always be ready for Plan B,” he said.

Saghatelyan, who is affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), backed the idea when he spoke with journalists after the Saturday rally. He said Armenians have a right to revolt against “this government of evil.” He stressed at the same time they must be patient and ready for a prolonged struggle against Pashinyan’s administration.

 

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