Opposition Ends Protests after Ter-Petrosian Plea
YEREVAN–The standoff between Armenian security forces and thousands of opposition protesters appeared to have ended without further violence early Sunday after opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian urged his supporters to go home, citing a state of emergency imposed by President Robert Kocharian.
"I do not want any victims and clashes between police and innocent people. That is why I am asking you to leave," Ter-Petrosian said in a message read out to more than 2,000 people that barricaded themselves outside the Yerevan mayor’s office.
According to Reuters news agency, most of the crowd headed away from the square but a group of around 60 people refused to go home and set fire to abandoned police vehicles. Some of them accused the former Armenian president of being a traitor.
The opposition leader appealed to his supporters in the early hours of the morning as Armenian army units backed by light tanks and armored personnel moved into the city center to help riot police disperse his supporters who occupied a major street junction outside the Yerevan municipality and the French Embassy in Armenia. The troops took positions near the area shortly after Kocharian declared the state of emergency late Saturday. He cited violent clashes that broke out between the protesters and riot police on one of several streets leading to the site of the protest at 9 p.m. local time
“They are using weapons and we are obliged to ensure the security of our citizens,” Kocharian told a late-night news conference. He claimed that opposition supporters provoked the violence by firing gunshots and wounding eight police officers.
In a separate address to the nation, Kocharian said the violence was the main reason why he decided to declare the 20-day emergency rule. It means, among other things, that all rallies and other public gatherings will be banned in Yerevan until March 20. It also places serious restrictions on press freedom, with local media outlets allowed to report only official news communiqu?s