20,000 Armenian Protesters Demand President Quit

Rueters
April 9 2004

20,000 Armenian Protesters Demand President Quit

By Hasmik Lazarian

YEREVAN (Reuters) – About 20,000 demonstrators massed in the capital
of ex-Soviet Armenia on Friday to demand the resignation of President
Robert Kocharyan and vowed to press their protests through next week.

In the largest public gathering since mass protests denouncing
alleged irregularities in Kocharyan’s re-election last year,
demonstrators answering the call of two opposition parties poured
into Freedom Square.

“Today, the fate of Armenia is being decided,” Stepan Demirchyan,
head of the opposition Justice Party, told supporters chanting
“Kocharyan out!”

Protest leaders had failed to seek official permission to hold the
rally, but police took no action. New protests were planned every
evening next week to pursue opposition demands.

Kocharyan’s leadership in the Caucasus country remains beset by a
failure to resolve a protracted dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh — a
territory populated by ethnic Armenians but assigned to mainly Muslim
Azerbaijan in Soviet times.

Participants in Friday’s rally said they wanted to secure changes to
a law on referendums to hold a nationwide confidence vote on
Kocharyan’s administration.

The Constitutional Court proposed such a vote immediately after
Kocharyan’s re-election, but authorities took no action. “This would
be a good chance to ensure the president’s departure in a civilized
fashion,” Demirchyan told the crowd.

Parties backing the president have said a referendum would be
unconstitutional, but have offered talks with the opposition.

Opposition parties, which hold 25 of 131 seats in parliament after
elections in May 2003, suspended their activity in the assembly in
February after failing to persuade authorities to stage a referendum.
But they returned last month to press their campaign for Kocharyan’s
resignation.

Observers said the parliamentary election last year was less
fraudulent than the poll two months earlier that kept Kocharyan in
power, but was still not up to international standards.

The parliamentary poll was the first since eight senior officials,
including Armenia’s prime minister, were killed in a 1999 shooting
spree in the National Assembly.

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