US raps Armenia for crackdown on opposition protests

US raps Armenia for crackdown on opposition protests

Tue Apr 13, 3:45 PM ET

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States expressed concern about the
“sharp escalation” in tension between Armenia’s government and the
opposition, and rapped Yerevan for its crackdown on demonstrators
calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian.

At the same time, the State Department called on both the authorities
and the opposition to engage in dialogue and avoid any actions that
could lead to violence or infringe on the right to peaceful assembly.

“The United States is concerned about the current political situation
in Armenia, particularly the sharp escalation in confrontation between
the government and the opposition,” spokesman Richard Boucher said in
a statement.

His comments came after Armenian opposition leaders vowed to continue
their campaign to force Kocharian’s resignation following the breakup
of an anti-government demonstration by police with water cannons,
arrests of protestors and the alleged ransacking of two political
party offices.

The police have defended their tactics, but the United States appeared
to side with the protestors, who claimed the authorities had used
indiscriminate violence against their peaceful demonstrations.

“Physical assaults, raids on political party offices and widespread
arrests and detentions of opposition activists by the police do not
contribute to creating an atmosphere conducive to political dialogue,”
Boucher said.

“We call on all sides to respect the role of peaceful assembly and to
take all steps to prevent violence,” he added.

Armenia’s opposition has been staging almost nightly protests in
Yerevan for the past week to push its demands for the resignation of
Kocharian — blamed by many Armenians for repressive rule and low
standards of living.

The stand-off with the opposition stems from a presidential election
last March that Kocharian’s opponents alleged he rigged to secure a
second term in office. International observers said at the time the
vote fell short of democratic standards.