Armenian Police to Allow March 1 Rally

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian police indicated on Friday that they will not try to disperse thousands of people who are expected to rally on Sunday to mark the first anniversary of the 2008 post-election clashes in Yerevan.

The opposition Armenian National Congress plans to rally supporters outside the Matenadaran institute of ancient man’scripts and then stage a march through the city despite the municipal authorities’ refusal to authorize the protest.

Major-General Alik Sargsian, chief of the national police, made clear that the police will not enforce the ban. “The police are very calm,” he said. “Nothing [bad] is expected on March 1. Our people understand everything.”

“We too will act like victims. We too suffered casualties, our people also died on that day,” Sargsian told a news conference, referring to the deaths of two police servicemen in the March 1, 2008 clashes with opposition supporters that barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office. The violence also left eight civilians dead.

Sargsian said the police will use force only in the event of “any violation of public order.” “But we are convinced that people will calmly gather, pay their respects [to the March 1 victims] and go home,” he said.

Sargsian, who was appointed as police chief in June 2008, has dismissed opposition criticism that the authorities are solely to blame for the unprecedented post-election unrest, saying instead that the police can only be faulted for being too slow in reacting to the opposition actions on March 1. “I don’t defend police actions on March 1,” he said. “They may have been inactive at one point. But the police found themselves in an unpredictable situation and lost their orientation at that moment, as a result of which we too became victims. I feel very sorry for that.”

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