New Armenian protest demands president step down
By Hasmik Lazarian
YEREVAN, Armenia (Reuters) – More than 10,000 demonstrators marched
Wednesday to demand the resignation of Armenian President Robert
Kocharyan, whom they accuse of rigging his re-election last year, and
to seek a national referendum on his administration.
Ignoring both heavy rain and a threat by authorities to disperse mass
gatherings, protesters poured into Freedom Square in central Yerevan
and then filed through the city center without incident. They avoided
a repeat of last week’s protest when police used water cannon to break
up a march on Kocharyan’s residence.
“Any administration relying on violence is doomed. Kocharyan must go,”
said Stepan Demirchyan, leader of the Justice Party and runner-up to
Kocharyan in last year’s presidential election.
Kocharyan dismisses any notion of a new opposition-led “rose
revolution” like that which forced the resignation last year of
veteran leader Eduard Shevardnadze in ex-Soviet Georgia to the north.
The president says Armenia, unlike Georgia, has a more solid economy
with authorities enjoying broader support.
Speakers at Wednesday’s rally also demanded punishment for those
responsible for dispersing a rally on April 13 in which about 30
people were hurt. Opposition leaders are also calling for the release
of activists they say were detained.
Kocharyan ran Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory populated by ethnic
Armenians which broke away from rule by mainly Muslim Azerbaijan in
the Soviet era.
He became Armenian president in 1998, but has made little progress in
tackling the conflict over the region. Some 35,000 people were killed
died in six years of fighting ended by a 1994 cease-fire.
Kocharyan’s allies have offered dialogue with opposition parties. But
Viktor Dalakyan, another Justice Party leader, said dialogue could
only focus on the terms of Kocharyan’s departure.
“In the hearts of the people, the authorities are no longer in power,”
he said. “All therefore that remains to be done is to give this a
The largest rally in the campaign so far attracted 20,000
marchers. Activists have called a new protest for Saturday to coincide
with commemorations of what Armenians describe as the genocide of 1.5
million of their countrymen by Ottoman Turks in 1915.
04/21/04 16:50 ET
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress