Armenian police acted within law at opposition rally, official says

Armenian police acted within law at opposition rally, official says

Public Television of Armenia, Yerevan
13 Apr 04

The Armenian police acted within the law when they used force against
an opposition rally in central Yerevan in the night of 12 April,
police chief Ararat Makhtesyan has said in an interview with Armenian
Public TV. Makhtesyan named the organizers of the rally and said that
the police had missed the opportunity to arrest them on the
spot. Commenting on police violence against reporters, Makhtesyan said
that it had been difficult to identify them in the chaos. Ho wever,
opposition leaders said that the sharp objects which the police said
the protesters had used to attack policemen had appeared in the
streets later and that the police used this to accuse the opposition
of plotting a coup. The following is the text of the report by
Armenian Public TV on 13 April; subheadings inserted editorially:

[Presenter] The first deputy chief of the Armenian Police, Maj-Gen
Ararat Makhtesyan, is a guest in our studio. We shall try to clarify
some details of yesterday’s events [dispersal of an opposition rally
on Yerevan’s Freedom Square].

Police acted within law

Good evening. The police’s statement said that they had used physical
force and special measures. Could you please explain how this physical
force was used and what special measures they were?

[Ararat Makhtesyan, captioned] The use of physical force and special
measures is approved by the 2001 law on the Armenian Police. It
stipulates in which cases the police has the right to use force. These
are preventing crime, arresting criminals and in case of special
events when the police has the right to use special measures. I would
like to mention these means which are available at the police munition
depot. These are tear gas, water cannons, rubber truncheons and so on.

[Presenter] Are they not hazardous to health?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] No, they are not. These means are accepted by
international norms, and using them we can stop and prevent crime
whithout harming people.

[Presenter] Mr Makhtesyan, it was reported that some participants in
the rally, among them Shavarsh Kocharyan [member of the Justice
faction] who had a rifle, were taken to police. Was the rifle legal or
illegal, is he free or was he detained?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] Firts, I must say that this was not Shavarsh
Kocharyan’s rifle. But details are being clarifed. Second, I would
like to say that nobody, even the police, have the right to take part
in peaceful rallies, marches and demonstrations with rifles. Even a
member of the National Assembly [Shavarsh Kocharyan], who knows
provisions of the law, took part in the rally with a rifle.

[Presenter] Did you know that he had a rifle or did you reveal this
after his arrest?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] We revealed that after his arrest.

[Presenter] Thank you. We have to make a short break in our interview.

Opposition leaders deny police statement

Opposition leaders gave a different assessments of the last night’s
events. The leader of the Justice bloc, Stepan Demirchyan, noted
today that the police statement which said that the rally-goers were
behaving aggressively was a lie. The leader of the National Democratic
Union, Vazgen Manukyan, said that the opposition would continue its
struggle and discuss future steps.

[Correspondent, over video of press conference] Today, Messrs Stepan
Demirchyan and Vazgen Manukyan held a press conference at the
headquarters of the Armenian People’s Party and gave their assessments
of the events which took place yesterday [12 April] on Bagramyan
Avenue. They confirmed that the police had used violence against
peaceful protesters.

[Stepan Demirchyan, captioned] The police have issued a statement
saying that the opposition was behaving aggressively, that they had
sharp objects, etc. But all these are lies. The protesters were
peaceful. Eye-witnesses saw that they were dancing and singing. We
have evidence that sharp objects appeared in the streets and on the
pavements later, after the outrageous events. The police took photos
of this and attempted to accuse the opposition of plotting a coup.

[Correspondent, over video of riots] These clips show that wood and
glass were in the protesters’ hands and that they used them during the
rally, they did not emerge after the rally, as Mr Demirchyan said.

Vazgen Manukyan also described how police behaved in similar
situations in the civilized world. Manukyan compared these events with
the 1996 events.

[Vazgen Manukyan, captioned] People attacked the National Assembly in
1996. There was shooting, people were injured. This time round, it
was a peaceful demonstration. People were singing and dancing and
waiting. There was no shooting, I did not hear shooting.

[Correspondent, over video of press conference] What will be next
steps? Opposition leaders will discuss future steps. It is supposed
that everything will change, particularly the methods of their
struggle. [Leader of the National Unity Party] Artashes Gegamyan was
expected to attend today’s press conference. But he did not turn
up. Other leaders of the opposition did not know where he was.

Tatevik Nalbandyan, Aylur.

Journalists injured

[Presenter] Mr Makhtesyan, let us continue our interview. Some
participants in the rally escaped. What measures are the police taking
to find them?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] Active organizers of the rally escaped. The police
had missed the opportunity to arrest them on the spot. These are
Artashes Gegamyan, Albert Bazeyan [chairman of the political council
of the Anrapetutyun Party], Aram Sarkisyan [ex-prime minister and
leader of the Anrapetutyun Party] and MP Smbat Ayvazyan. The
opposition leaders said that they had been peaceful, dancing and
singing, but they must know that by their actions they disrupted order
in the city. We have received many telephone calls from residents who
live in those areas, who complained about the disturbances. When they
threw stones and sharp objects, the police fulfilled its tasks in
accordance with the law.

[Presenter] Journalists were also injured during this rally, as if it
had been a sad tradition to beat journalists in Armenia. How come that
media representatives were also injured?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] The police warned the protesters that if they did
not disperse, the police would take appropriate measures.

[Presenter] But journalists had photo and video cameras and were
fulfilling their professional duty.

[Ararat Makhtesyan] It was not written on their foreheads that they
were journalists. It was difficult to identify them in that chaos. We
had no intention to use force against media representatives.

[Presenter] What scenario are the police preparing regarding the
future development of the events?

[Ararat Makhtesyan] I would like to say the following: it would be
correct for our opposition to act in accordance with civilized rules
and norms and not to violate laws. If they do violate these rules,
they will receive an appropriate response from the police.

[Presenter] Thank you.