Thousands of anti-government demonstrators rallied in the Armenian capital in the latest in a series of demonstrations ending a lull in protests since Armenian security forces cracked down on protesters in 2008.
Some protesters want the government to stand down
Protesters gathered for an hour outside the Museum of Ancient Manuscripts in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, and marched to the central Freedom Square, where riot police surrounding the area let them in without any conflict.
The head of Armenia's leading opposition movement, the Armenian National Congress, called for the release of political prisoners, the government's resignation and early elections.
"Now we are peaceful and are against social and political shocks," Levon Ter-Petrosian said. "But if you don't satisfy our three demands, we'll start another strategy and another kind of process."
The site of the protest was significant for the participants. Freedom Square was the scene of violent clashes in February and March 2008, that left 10 people dead when security forces cracked down on hundreds of thousands of demonstrators alleging fraud in the election of Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian, the current incumbent.
More to come
Police cleared out for demonstrators to make their way to Freedom Square
Last month, a 15-day-long hunger strike by opposition leader and ex-Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian at Freedom Square preceded a protest there on March 17. On Friday, Ter-Petrosian announced another protest for April 28.
"We are not yet inclined to speak to the authorities in terms of ultimatums," he said. "April 28 can be either the start of dialogue, or will become a day of final separation between the government and society."
Ter-Petrosian was the first president of Armenia after the country gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. He said the government should continue to let protesters demonstrate in Freedom Square and called for an investigation into killings that took place during the spring 2008 crackdown.
While Ter-Petrossian is Armenia's main opposition figure, some of the protesters said they wanted more radical change than what the ex-president is pursuing.
"He didn't mention any real solution to our problems," protester Arayik Harutyunyan told Deutsche Welle. "You can compare our society to Syria's. What is happening there can be in Armenia."
Mikayel Hovhannisyan, a member of the youth protest movement "Hima," or "Now,” told Deutsche Welle his group wants Sarkisian' s immediate resignation and snap elections.
He said only a small percentage of Armenians benefit from the current government, but he added that, "If people see that change is possible, that it can be achieved, they will join the more active part of society no matter how scared they are."
Author: Shant Shahrigian, Yerevan
Editor: Sean Sinico