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Citing major challenges faced by Armenia due to looming economic crisis and strained regional ties, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian on Sunday addressed a rally to mark first anniversary of the 2008 post-election clashes in Yerevan, saying he’ll have to “disappoint” radically minded supporters and rejected call for “decisive action” for the time being.
“Armenia today faces challenges of restoring democracy, Karabakh resolution, overcoming regional isolation and economic crisis,” Ter-Petrosian, Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998 and leader of Armenian National Congress (HAK) opposition movement told thousands of supporters, denouncing “revolt and revolution” as the country “is headed towards difficult times, loaded with danger of social and perhaps even humanitarian crisis.”
“I am convinced that the country is literally falling into a precipice,” the opposition leader said, assuring the crowd that “after some time a completely different, much more favorable situation will take shape. I don’t exclude the possibility, that soon the ruling regime will find itself in such a situation, when it will be forced to resign and even ask us to form a National Rescue Government. Current crisis will be worse and harder to overcome, than even the crisis in 1990’s.”
“The Armenian National Congress is a unity of new political culture and quality, which has no analogues in Armenia’s modern history. This new political culture and new quality will surely result in a new victory,” the charismatic opposition leader stated.
Recalling March 1 clashes, Ter-Petrosian accused the authorities, saying, “Jails remain full of dozens of our friends. For a whole year authorities have done nothing to discover those responsible for [March 1] crime – killers, looters, torchers, because those were all their men.”
Opposition said over 100,000 people participated in the rally, while police estimated the figure at 5,000.
Police had initially blocked access to the planned rally location. Faced with pressure from the crowd and opposition leaders soon the police officers broke the chain and opened access to the square of Matenadaran ancient manuscript museum, a common rally location in Armenia.
RFE/RL reporters earlier witnessed a number of cases when public transport from the regions was turned back and drivers refused to transport people to Yerevan citing various reasons.
Entry to Yerevan was guarded by strengthened police patrol. Security was tight near the rally location as well with water cannon and fire-brigades brought into French square nearby.
This rally was the first major opposition gathering since October 17, 2008, when Ter-Petrosian called for a “temporary” halt to his year-long campaign of anti-government demonstrations, citing the need to stave off greater Armenian concessions on Nagorno-Karabakh which he said are sought by the West.
The rally was followed by a march through central Yerevan to Grigor Lusavorich avanue, the epicentre of last year’s deadly clashes.