Opposition Rejects ARF Call for Negotiations Seeks Regime Change

YEREVAN (Armenpress/RFE/RL)–Armenia’s two main opposition groups announced Monday that their long-anticipated joint campaign to topple President Robert Kocharian will get underway this Friday.

The leader of the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc Stepan Demirchian–and the leader of the National Unity Party Artashes Geghamian–together vowed to join forces and "restore constitutional order in Armenia." They issued a declaration urging opposition supporters to take to the streets of Yerevan–calling for the removal of President Kocharian.

Both Demirchian and Geghamian told reporters on Monday that starting April 9 they will launch "mass protest actions," to ensure the "departure of the illegitimate regime," and rejected a call on Monday by the Armenian Revolutionary Federation to engage in dialogue to diffuse the tension.

Demirchian said that a referendum of confidence in President Kocharian is the only pre-condition for engaging in dialogue.

The two leaders refused to disclose details of the planned protests–saying that they want to keep the authorities guessing about their tactics. It thus remained unclear whether Friday’s rally will be an ordinary one or will continue "day and night" as was promised by some Artarutyun leaders. Nor is it known how the opposition will respond if the authorities block the city’s main square and the street leading to Kocharian’s official residence.

The Office of Prosecutor-General confirmed on Monday reports that Suren Sureniants of the Hanrabedutyun party–a leading Artarutyun force–was detained the previous night in connection with an official criminal investigation into the ongoing opposition rallies held across the country. Officials there said that no charges have been brought against him yet.

Demirchian claimed that not only had Sureniants been arrested–but also the head of the opposition Nor Jhamanak party Aram Karapetyan–who a few hours later–said that he–in fact–had not been apprehended–but that a cousin and a leader of his party Samvel Khatchatrian had.

The prosecutors claim that the opposition protests–launched by Artarutyun and the National Unity Party in February–are accompanied by calls for a "violent overthrow" of the ruling regime and offensive language directed at senior government officials.

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