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03/02/08

Eight Reported Killed In Armenia After Clashes Between Police, Protesters

Source: RFE/RL

Eight people are reported to have been killed in overnight clashes between police and opposition protesters in the Armenian capital, Yerevan.

Police spokesman Sayat Shirinian did not say if the dead were police or protesters, but added that 33 officers were wounded.

The protesters, who have rallied for 12 straight days, accuse the government of rigging last month's presidential election.

RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports that troops and armored vehicles are patrolling the main streets of Yerevan today.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian declared a 20-day state of emergency following similar clashes on March 1. Just hours after Armenian police and Interior Ministry troops used truncheons, tear gas, and electric stun guns to disperse opposition supporters from a central Yerevan square, thousands who regrouped for a second rally were again met with force by the authorities.

RFE/RL's Armenia Service reported that riot police fired tracer bullets into the air and tear gas to disperse the crowd of 15,000, and some demonstrators hurled rocks and Molotov cocktails at police. Several vehicles were set fire or otherwise destroyed in the course of the day.

More news and analysis about Armenia can be found on the English site of RFE/RL's Armenian Service.

Human Rights Watch has charged the Armenian police with using "excessive force and violence" to disperse demonstrators.

As part of the state of emergency, mass gatherings have been banned, and media outlets are required to only use official information when reporting on the domestic political situation. The movement of citizens has been restricted and the authorities will be allowed to search vehicles.

The Armenia parliament today voted to confirm the state of emergency. Eighty-one of the 131 lawmakers present cast their votes in favor.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is sending a special envoy to Yerevan to offer help in mediating the crisis. Ambassador Heikki Talvitie is to meet with both President-elect Serzh Sarkisian and opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian.

House Arrest

Ter-Petrossian, the second-place finisher in the February 19 elections who is claiming victory for himself, told RFE/RL after the initial early morning crackdown on March 1 that he had been placed under house arrest, and that a number of his followers were detained. Police were reportedly guarding the entrance to his home.
 
Daily rallies following the contentious vote attracted tens of thousands of protesters to Armenia's Liberty Square, where they voiced their belief that the elections were marred by fraud. A tent camp was set up and participants vowed to remain on the square until their demands for a new election were met.
 
But after Sarkisian secured key support for the formation of a coalition government on February 29, the authorities made good on their earlier threats to break up the rallies.
 
Hundreds of police and Interior Ministry troops surrounded the square at 7:00 a.m. local time on the morning of March 1, and moved in to break up the crowd. 
 
Police reportedly forced scores of protesters onto buses, taking them to local police stations. 
 
RFE/RL's Armenian Service reported that opposition figure and member of parliament Armen Martirosian was hospitalized for injuries received during the crackdown.
 
Former President Ter-Petrossian described the events that led to the initial clash that resulted in 31 injuries during an interview with RFE/RL.
 
"People were sleeping quietly. [Security forces] came in large numbers with truncheons and started beating. At that time I was near the microphone and I called on people to stay calm," he said. "[Security forces] didn't start the beating immediately. First they stood in front of people and I urged people not to get in contact with them and to stay quiet to see what they want. But nobody told us anything, nothing was negotiated. And they suddenly attacked people with truncheons and electric stun guns." 
 
Violence Condemned

Within hours of the morning police action, OSCE Chairman in Office Ilkka Kanerva condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.
 
"I urge the authorities to use maximum restraint," Kanerva said. "I am troubled that there are reports of casualties. I urge the authorities to release those detained, and I again call on the government and the opposition to engage in dialogue."
 
The police said in a statement issued on March 1 that they took action to disperse the protesters after learning that they were waiting to receive "large amounts of firearms, grenades, metal rods, and truncheons," which they believed would be used "to stage provocations and stir up mass disturbances."
 
The authorities said after the initial raid that police officers were wounded and that weapons were found in the protestors' camp. 
 
Police chased media away from the square as army trucks arrived to take away the makeshift tent camp.
 
Protesters later regrouped in front of the French Embassy for a planned rally as units of riot police arrived on the scene, setting the stage for the violence later in the day.
 
Opposition supporters had been protesting daily in Liberty Square since Prime Minister Sarkisian was elected to replace his ally, Robert Kocharian, as president. Official results gave Sarkisian nearly 53 percent of the vote, with Ter-Petrossian getting 21.5 percent.
 
Ter-Petrossian is claiming that he is the rightful first-round winner, and that Sarkisian used ballot stuffing and intimidation to steal victory. Sarkisian has denied the charges.
 
In its initial assessment, the election-monitoring arm of the OSCE declared the election "mostly in line" with Armenia's international commitments, while also noting the need for "further improvements."
 
The elections have been endorsed by the European Union and the U.S. State Department has congratulated the Armenian people on an "active" and "competitive" election.

Calls For Restraint Ignored

Authorities had warned on February 29 that their patience with the protests in Yerevan was running out, and alleged that those behind the rallies plan to seize power illegally. 
  
The Council of Europe and the OSCE had called on the Armenian authorities to exercise restraint. The United States Mission to the OSCE said Washington was "very concerned" about the post-election arrests of opposition politicians, as well as reports that authorities have forcibly closed opposition offices.
 
At least six prominent opposition figures close to Ter-Petrossian have been placed in pretrial custody on a number of criminal charges, including illegal arms possession and assault. 
  
Sarkisian's efforts to gain acceptance for his victory received a boost on February 29 when he reached a deal on the formation of a coalition government with the third-place finisher in the elections.
 
Before agreeing to become Security Council secretary in the next government, Orinats Yerkir party leader Artur Baghdasarian had decried the election as deeply flawed. Baghdasarian also accused Ter-Petrossian of trying to rig the election.
 
(RFE/RL's Armenian Service contributed to this report.)


Message of Armenian President Robert Kocharian To The People

This is a translation of the text of the declaration of a state of emergency issued on March 1 by Armenian President Robert Kocharian:

Dear compatriots,

The self-nominated candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian who lost in the 2008 presidential election in the Republic of Armenia, and a group of adventure-seekers surrounding him, without acknowledging the reality of their defeat, took to illegal actions. Among them are the accumulation of weapons and ammunition and their transportation to public places where their presence may pose a serious danger to citizens' lives and health, and holding public rallies and marches without keeping [authorities] aware.

Despite the fact that the recounts demanded by the candidates who participated in the 2008 presidential election did not reveal any serious violations, and that no complaint was lodged with the administrative courts of the Republic of Armenia, and that the examination of the complaint at the Constitutional Court is in process according to the order foreseen by the Electoral Code, Ter-Petrosian's supporters continue to dispute the outcome of the election with illegal means.

A group of opposition representatives on March 1 committed disturbances in the center of Yerevan causing damage to state property and the property of citizens, as well as creating a direct threat to the security of citizens, which makes the situation uncontrollable. The target of these activities is the stability gained by the Republic of Armenia, and the consequence is the disruption of international prestige.

As the guarantor of the Constitution of the Republic of Armenia, I will not allow anyone to endanger the constitutional order of our state.

In order to prevent the immediate threat to the constitutional order in the Republic of Armenia and for the purpose of protecting the rights and legal interests of the population, I consulted with the Chairman of the National Assembly and the Prime Minister, after which I signed a decree guided by point 14 of Article 55 and point 6 of Article 117 of the Republic of Armenia Constitution, whereby a state of emergency is declared in the city of Yerevan from March 1, 2008, for a period of 20 days.

The following measures are foreseen by the state of emergency.

1) Ban on holding meetings, public rallies, demonstrations, marches, and other mass events.

2) Ban on strikes and measures to stop or otherwise suspend the activities of organizations.

3) If necessary, restriction by law-enforcement bodies of the movement of individuals, means of transportation, and implementation of inspection.

4) Publications of mass media concerning state and internal political issues can be implemented solely within the limits of the official information of state bodies.

5) Ban on leaflets and implementation of political propaganda by other means without permission of corresponding state bodies.

6) Temporary suspension of the activities of political parties and other nongovernmental organizations obstructing the removal of the circumstances serving as a basis for the declaration of the state of emergency.

7) Expulsion of individuals who break the regime of the state of emergency and not residing in a given territory at the expense of their means, and if they don't have means - at the expense of the means of the Republic of Armenia state budget on the condition of the further return of the expenses made.

I urge all to show restraint and wisdom. Under this situation it is more than ever necessary to show consolidation, to implement the requirements of the law without deviation. I assure that the state of emergency will stop immediately after the circumstances serving as a basis for it are removed.


Copyright (c) 2008 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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