YEREVAN — Authorities in the Armenian capital have not approved at short notice the opposition bid to hold a rally in a central Yerevan square later this week, explaining that the request submitted by three political parties is short of necessary grounds.
The leaders of the Prosperous Armenia Party (PAP), the Armenian National Congress (ANC) and Heritage met late on Sunday to discuss their joint response to a crackdown launched by President Serzh Sarkisian and his ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) against Gagik Tsarukian, who heads the PAP.
Invoking Armenia’s law on freedom of assembly, the three parties known as the trio said they would call their joint “urgent all-national rally” for February 20. Under Armenia’s law, holding ‘urgent’ rallies does not require notification of local authorities well in advance of the event.
But the Yerevan Mayor’s Office said today that the official justification of the “urgency” of the rally, i.e. “to respond to the president’s February 12 speech” does not provide sufficient grounds for applying the provision of the law.
“The explanations of the Mayor’s Office have nothing to do with the law,” ANC parliamentary leader Levon Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service (Azatutyun). “I have no doubt that the rally will take place anyway.”
Earlier, some representatives of the opposition alliance seeking a regime change did not rule out that sit-ins and other nonstop actions would be launched in Yerevan’s Liberty Square on Friday.
Deputy Parliament Speaker Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also a spokesperson for the RPA, however, ruled out the possibility of a change of government in Armenia through street protests. He urged the opposition to remain “within the limits of the law”.
“Whether there is a change of government or not should be decided during elections. People have given the RPA a mandate till 2017 and President Serzh Sarkisian a mandate till 2018. The rest will be decided during regular elections as it is done in all normal countries,” he said.
Several lawmakers representing Prosperous Armenia Party may start sit-ins and hunger strikes in a central Yerevan square if their leader Gagik Tsarukian is stripped of his parliamentary seat, a senior PAP member said on Monday.
The National Assembly leadership on Monday considered kicking the embattled opposition figure out of parliament on the grounds of “chronic absenteeism” following an appeal from President Serzh Sarkisian made late last week.
Losing a mandate for the PAP leader will also mean losing parliamentary immunity from prosecution. In his speech at the RPA council meeting, President Sarkisian also effectively ordered a probe into long-running “unverified reports” implicating Tsarukian in large-scale tax evasion. He also warned of the possibility of the tycoon’s prosecution for other alleged crimes.