YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Riot police used force to stop opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian and thousands of his supporters from marching towards the presidential palace in Yerevan on Tuesday at the end of daylong protests against President Serzh Sarkisian’s inauguration for a second term.
Rows of security forces armed with shields and truncheons blocked a major street in the city center leading to Sarkisian’s residence to halt the unsanctioned march against the official results of the February 18 presidential election. They pushed back the crowd led by Hovannisian but did not disperse it despite scuffling with protesters for about 20 minutes.
Still, one of Hovannisian’s close associates, Armen Martirosian, was reportedly detained on the spot. The police did not immediately confirm this.
The police warned the crowd to turn back as it approached Marshal Bagramian Avenue from nearby Liberty Square. Hovannisian defied the warning, saying that he and his supporters only want to walk past the presidential offices to the Armenian Genocide Memorial on Tsitsernakabert Hill. “This is our street, our right, our constitution. I’m moving forward,” he said.
“Don’t create tension, Mr. Hovannisian,” General Nerses Nazarian, chief of the Yerevan police, replied before the security forces confronted the protesters.
Vladimir Gasparian, head of Armenia’s national police service, arrived at the scene moments later to negotiate with Hovannisian. The two men stepped aside to speak tête-à-tête. According to Nazarian, the opposition leader was offered to take another route to Tsitsernakabert.
Andreas Ghukasian, another former presidential candidate who also joined the protest, said afterwards that Hovannisian accepted the police offer and is now headed to the genocide memorial together with some of the protesters. He told several demonstrators remaining on the Marshal Bagramian Avenue section that he will stage a sit-in there and that they can join him.
A police official, meanwhile, again warned the remaining crowd to “sober up” and disperse.
Hovannisian also tried to approach the presidential palace with a small group of mostly young supporters earlier in the day. Several of them were detained as a result. A spokesman for the national police, Armen Malkhasian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that they were taken into custody for defying police orders. Some of the opposition youths were reportedly released in the evening.