Eight people are reported killed in overnight clashes between police and opposition protesters in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, March 2. The protesters, who have rallied in the capital for 12 days, accuse the government of rigging last month’s presidential election. Troops and armored vehicles are now patrolling the main streets of Yerevan, and President Robert Kocharian has declared a 20-day state of emergency. Police and Interior Ministry troops used truncheons, tear gas, and electric stun guns to disperse opposition supporters from a central Yerevan square March 1, but thousands who regrouped later. Riot police fired tracer bullets into the air and again used tear gas to disperse the crowd of 15,000. Some protesters hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police. Several vehicles were set fire. Human Rights Watch charges Armenian authorities with using “excessive force and violence” against the protesters.
Under the state of emergency, mass gatherings are banned, and media required to only use only official information in reportage. The movement of citizens is restricted and the authorities will be allowed to search vehicles. The Armenia parliament voted March 2 to confirm the state of emergency.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is sending a special envoy to Yerevan to help mediate the crisis. Ambassador Heikki Talvitie is to meet with both President-elect Serzh Sarkisian and opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian, the second-place finisher in the Feb. 19 election who has claimed victory.
Ter-Petrossian, a former president, has reportedly been placed under house arrest, with police guarding the entrance to his home. A number of his followers have also been detained. Police were reportedly guarding the entrance to his home.
Police said in a statement after the protesters’ encampment was raided March 1 that they took action after learning the protesters were waiting to receive “large amounts of firearms, grenades, metal rods, and truncheons,” which they believed would be used “to stage provocations and stir up mass disturbances.” Thes tatement said police were injured in the raid, and weapons were confiscated. Police chased media away from the square as army trucks arrived to take away the makeshift tent camp.
Opposition supporters had been protesting daily in Liberty Square since Prime Minister Sarkisian was elected to replace his ally, Robert Kocharian, as president. Official results gave Sarkisian nearly 53% of the vote, to Ter-Petrossian’s 21.5%. The elections were approved by the European Union, and the US State Department congratulated the Armenian people on an “active” and “competitive” election. (RFE/RL, March 2 via EurasiaNet)
This is a more violent replay of the protests that shook Armenia in 2005, demanding President Robert Kocharian’s resignation. We conjectured at the time that the US was tilting to the protesters, as Kocharian tilts to Moscow in the Great Game. Have the sides changed? Or are the State Department platitudes on the health of Armenian democracy just pro forma regurgitation, while the State Department/CIA/Soros machine is quietly backing the protesters?