YEREVAN (Azatutyun.am)—Armenian opposition leaders and their supporters blocked a key government building in Yerevan on Friday on the 13th day of their street protests aimed at forcing Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign.
All entrances to the building housing several Armenian ministries remained blocked for around 90 minutes, with the protesters not allowing their employees to leave it. Some of them watched the action from the building’s balconies or looked out of office windows.
Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a deputy parliament speaker leading the crowd, urged the civil servants to “join the people” campaigning for Pashinyan’s removal from power. “Nobody can threaten to fire you,” Saghatelian said through a loudspeaker.
“We must show every day that Nikol has no power in Armenia,” he went on, appealing to the crowd.
Riot police warned the protesters that the blockade is illegal but did not try to disperse them. They similarly refrained from using force when the opposition surrounded the building of the Yerevan mayor’s office on Wednesday.
After the blockade, the protesters marched back to the city’s France Square, the scene of daily rallies and a tent camp set up by Armenia’s two main opposition groups on May 1.
Opposition leaders also organized fresh processions of cars that drove slowly through various parts of the city to try to drum up greater popular support for the campaign.
Saghatelyan said the campaign will continue until Pashinyan agrees to step down.
He and other opposition leaders pledged earlier to install an interim government of technocrats that will run Armenia for at least one year before holding fresh general elections. They did not specify who would head it.
Pashinyan, who is accused by the opposition of planning to make sweeping concessions to Azerbaijan, has rejected demands for his resignation. The prime minister and his allies say they received a popular mandate to continue to govern the country in last year’s parliamentary elections.
Earlier in the day, groups of young opposition activists again entered university campuses in the capital and urged students to join the opposition push for regime change. Six of them were detained after blocking a street intersection in downtown Yerevan.
One of the opposition politicians was arrested on Friday on suspicion of trying to pay university students to participate in ongoing anti-government demonstrations in Yerevan.
Organizers of the protests condemned the arrest of Avetik Chalabyan, saying that it is part of government attempts to suppress the two-week opposition campaign for Pashinyan’s resignation.
Chalabyan leads a small party that has voiced strong support for the campaign. He is also a co-founder of a private charity helping the Armenian military as well as border villages in Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
Investigators took Chalabyan into custody after searching his Yerevan apartment on Thursday night. They also detained Emma Sargsyan, a lecturer at the Armenian National Agrarian University.
The criminal case against them is based on a leaked audio of fragments of their conversations with the chairman of the university’s student council, Tornik Aliyan. Law-enforcement authorities say it shows that he was offered 2 million drams ($4,200) in return for ensuring the presence of 2,000 students at opposition rallies.
Aliyan was being interrogated by the Investigative Committee when RFE/RL’s Armenian Service contacted him by phone. He was unable to answer questions. The deputy chairman of the student council insisted that it was not Aliyan who secretly recorded the conversation with Chalabyan and Sargsyan.
Ruben Melikyan, a lawyer representing the arrested lecturer, said the five-minute audio was doctored by the authorities and does not corroborate their allegations. He also noted that Aliyan is the first to talk about cash in the recording.
Opposition leaders went farther, saying that the recording is a government provocation aimed at discrediting their push for regime. Saghatelyan, linked the case to recent days’ arrests and prosecution of a dozen other opposition activists.
Five of them are accused of assaulting several elderly residents of Gyumri hours before an opposition rally held there on May 8. The young men claimed after the incident that the pensioners provoked them by swearing and throwing eggs at them.
Two other activists were arrested a week ago on charges of paying people in Armavir province west of Yerevan to attend the anti-government protests. The accusations, strongly denied by them, are based on publicized excerpts from their secretly recorded phone conversation.
Saghatelyan charged that the arrests are aimed at intimidating the opposition and its supporters. “All this pressure is only making us stronger,” he said.
The authorities have not launched criminal proceedings against any of the riot police officers accused by the opposition as well as human rights groups of disproportionate use of force. One policeman was caught on camera punching a protester last week while another officer spat at an opposition supporter a few days later.