A few thousand demonstartors gathered in Yerevan Monday for a “meeting of constituents” to protest what they call an “illegitimate” government, and to launch a movement which their leaders say will lead to the ousting of President Robert Kocharyan and his administration.
Anti-government demonstrators are expected to repeat rallies calling for regime change.
Led by National Assemblyman and head of the National Unity Party, Artashes Geghamyan, demonstrators gathered at about 2 p.m. for the first of what is expected to be several days of protests.
And, as expected, the crowd was deterred by police corridors that blocked it from reaching the Institute of Manuscripts (Matenaderan), the common gathering point for mass meetings of political orientation. Retreating down Mashtots Avenue and collecting near Nairi Cinema, former presidential candidate Geghamyan addressed his audience from atop a car, while eggs were hurled by pro-government supporters from nearby buildings.
During the rally there were at least three reports of journalists being attacked and equipment damaged.
Police blocked the crowd's attempt to meet at the Institute of Manuscripts.
Reporter Hayk Gevorkyan of Haykakan Zhamanak (Armenian Times) had his camera broken. As Aravot (Morning) daily reporter Ana Israelyan was photographing the incident, she too was attacked and had her camera damaged.
Video cameras of Kentron and TV Alik television companies were also broken by assailants.
A bystander who tried to interfere with the attack on journalists was cut on the ear by one of the anti-protestors.
In a speech that lasted nearly two hours, Geghamyan told the Yerevan crowd about recent visits to regions where, he says, residents are eager to see a regime change in the capital. Geghamyan said Robert Kocharyan’s “illegitimate” presidency “causes Armenia’s international isolation”.
The most enthusiastic responses came when Geghamyan cited widespread social ills which, he claimed, are conditioned by the inattention of the current administration. To shouts of agreement, the parliamentarian blamed Kocharyan and Minister of Defense Serzh Sargsyan for unemployment, for malnutrition and for the increase in infectuous disease such as tuberculosis.
By early afternoon, police had set up roadblocks on major arteries into Yerevan, not allowing buses to pass, as it was expected that residents of outside regions would be brought to the rally en masse.
One man's attempt to defend a camerman led to getting his ear cut by anti-protestors.
Myasnik Grigoryan, of Shatin village of Yeghegnadzor, who says he has been unemployed for 15 years, brought with him a packet of prescriptions for his ill wife, claiming that, due to conditions created by the current administration, he has no means to fill.
“I don’t even have a penny to return to the village,” Grigoryan said. “There are thousands like me and this issue has to be solved in a more global way. Which one of us can Geghamyan help?”
Last week, Yerevan Municipality announced it would not grant permits for public gatherings by the opposition. As all leaders, however, are Members of Parliament, calling the protests a “meeting of constituents” is their way of skirting the need for city permission.
The next rally is expected to be Friday.
Edited by Vahe G., 06 April 2004 - 12:23 AM.