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Police Confront Armenian Opposition Protesters In Yerevan


More Arrests As Armenia Protests Continue
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YEREVAN -- More than 100 protesters have been detained in downtown Yerevan after scuffles with riot police that had cordoned off a major government building on the seventh day of street protests against the election of longtime former President Serzh Sarkisian as prime minister.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered after the leader of the protest, opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian, told them the previous day to come in front of the government offices on Republic Square early on April 19.

A police spokesman said that 106 demonstrators were detained in the square when security forces moved in and started to push back the protesters to clear the entrances into government buildings.

"As of 1:30 p.m., 106 people have been taken to police stations. If they are not released in three hours, it means they are suspected of committing offenses," spokesman Ashot Agaronyan was quoted as saying.

Video footage showed chaotic scenes, with a young woman being dragged by police officers, and young protesters being violently pushed inside police vans by members of the security forces.

The arrests came after police issued a statement reminding citizens of the status of "specially protected sites" and warning demonstrators against illegally entering government buildings or other facilities and saying security personnel would apply "proportionate measures of legal effect."

PHOTO GALLERY by RFE/RL's Amos Chapple: Police break up protest

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A group of up to 1,000 protesters led by Pashinian camped in a park near city hall to rest after a four-hour march through Yerevan.

"There are rumors that I don't get tired, but that's not true. I need a rest, too," Pashinian told reporters.

Demonstrators led by Pashinian earlier called on police to lay down their arms and join the protests against Sarkisian's continued rule as prime minister.

"We are calling on you not to be afraid and to declare that you don't recognize the authority of Serzh Sarkisian and ministers appointed by him," Pashinian appealed to civil servants. "Take a step and reject Serzh!"

The protesters' actions apparently forced Sarkisian to put off his first cabinet meeting for several hours. Government meetings usually begin at 11 a.m. in a separate compound located on Republic Square. Pashinian has announced another rally in the square at 7 p.m.

In a separate incident near a government building, a journalist working for an Armenian nongovernmental organization was beaten up while covering the opposition rally on April 19 and was hospitalized for several hours with head injuries.

Journalist Tirayr Muradian of the Union of Informed Citizens told RFE/RL that he was beaten up by two young people who did not behave like "classic demonstrators."

The incident follows a night of demonstrations by thousands of Armenians who converged on Yerevan's central Republic Square in protests against the move to allow Sarkisian to retain power after the end of his presidential term.

Police detained dozens of demonstrators as they tried to block streets and interrupt traffic amid daylong protests and marches around the capital on April 18.

Addressing the rally on Republic Square, Pashinian urged people across Armenia to put pressure on local authorities to make statements in support of the protest movement, saying it would help achieve a change of government.

He also called for sit-ins inside administrative buildings and government offices across the country "so that even Serzh Sarkisian himself has no place to sit," and reiterated his call on demonstrators to remain peaceful.

Sarkisian's ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) called on Pashinian to engage in dialogue, warning that it would be "politically shortsighted to continue to abuse the government's political will and patience."

"Dialogue can take place in parliament," HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov, who is also deputy parliament speaker, told RFE/RL.

The United States urged both sides to exercise restraint and avoid violence, and Russia said that laws should not be broken.

Serzh Sarkisian was first elected in 2008 in the South Caucasus country of about 3 million people and served two terms. He has maintained warm ties with Russia, which Armenia relies on for aid and investment more than a quarter-century after the Soviet collapse.

Under a shift that was approved in a 2015 referendum and is now in place, Armenia changed its form of government and handed more powers to the prime minister, downgrading the president -- now also elected by parliament -- to more of a figurehead. Sarkisian had promised in the past that would not seek to be prime minister, and Pashinian and other opposition leaders accuse him of breaking that pledge.

Sarkisian disputed those accusations in a speech to parliament ahead of the vote on April 17, saying that his previous statements were taken "out of context" and that in a parliamentary republic, the leader of the ruling party should also serve as prime minister.

He contended that if someone else were to become prime minister, it could lead to the appearance of a "shadow" government situation in which the ruling party leader governs de facto, instead of the prime minister, but is able to evade responsibility for developments in the country.

The ruling HHK party and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) factions, which together have a majority in parliament, unanimously chose Sarkisian as the nominee for the prime minister's post earlier in April, and the protests began on April 13.

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