Almost 300 people, including three leaders of the opposition, have been detained in the Armenian capital Yerevan as authorities claim that protests, now in their second week, are jeopardizing the country’s constitutional order.
Scuffles broke out as demonstrators again attempted to block traffic in the capital, with security forces reportedly using special tactics, including stun grenades, against the crowd. Protests have been constant in Armenia since the ruling Republican Party of Armenia nominated their leader and former president, Serzh Sargsyan for the position of Prime Minister in mid-April.
Seven people were hospitalized after the police dispersed an anti-government march in the city’s Yerebuni dormitory districts early on Sunday. Medics said the condition of those wounded was satisfactory.
“290 people were delivered to police stations since morning,” a police spokesman told TASS, adding that 228 of them had later been released. Those who remain in custody “have either acts on administrative violations drawn up against them or their files have been sent for verification of possible involvement in criminal activity.”
Opposition MPs Nikol Pashinyan, Ararat Mirzoyan and Sasun Mikaelyan, who were in charge of the protests, have been among those detained, the General Prosecutor’s Office confirmed. The three politicians have been charged with organizing and staging illegal mass gatherings, which went on since April 13, in violation of restrictions imposed by Yerevan’s mayoral office. According to the prosecutors, the MPs “encouraged” the thousands who participated in daily protests to “block the streets, block access to government buildings, break into government buildings and paralyze its operations.”
“During those illegal actions, the persons led by the deputies recurrently violated provisions of the law on peaceful assembly; hampered the free movement of citizens and access to a number of buildings; refrained from informing their supporters of the demands by the police to stop the gatherings,” it said adding that the National Assembly would have to hold an extraordinary meeting and strip the detained MPs of their immunity.
Armenia’s National Security Service has warned that “various individuals and groups have been preparing crimes against national security and constitutional order of the country.” The agency said the suspects were under surveillance, adding that it stood ready to protect the state and public security.
Earlier on Sunday, talks between Pashinyan and Sargsyan ended in failure. The politicians refused to shake hands as they met in one of Yerevan’s hotels, with the protest leader not even taking his baseball cap off during a swift conversation with the head of the government.
Despite public discontent, the 64-year-old Sargsyan, who had held the president’s office for nearly a decade, was voted as the head of the government by the parliament on Tuesday. The role of Prime Minister became the key position in the country after a constitutional referendum in 2015 saw Armenia switch to a parliamentary system. The opposition claims that Sargsyan had promised not to seek the job but has now broken his vow in order to secure his grip on power.
Pashinyan stated that he wasn’t interested in any form of dialogue with the authorities, saying that he was only ready to discuss “the conditions of resignation and peaceful transfer of power” by Sargsyan. The PM said that such rhetoric was “an ultimatum and blackmail towards the state” and urged Pashinyan to “return to the legal field.”
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