December “Nonstop”: Opposition group starts round-the-clock protests in Yerevan

December “Nonstop”: Opposition group starts round-the-clock protests in Yerevan

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A radical opposition group seeking regime change in Armenia has pledged to stay put in the streets of Yerevan as long as it takes to thwart a controversial constitutional referendum and unseat the current government.

At the start of what they said was going to be a round-the-clock rally and sit-in in Liberty Square, leaders of New Armenia, an opposition movement bringing together the parliamentary opposition Heritage party, the extra-parliamentary Founding Parliament group, other political and civic forces opposed to the current government and its plans to change the current Constitution in favor a parliamentary republic, said that theirs was going to be an action of “peaceful disobedience” and warned the law-enforcement authorities against obeying “illegal” orders and using force against the demonstrators.

Heritage’s Raffi Hovannisian, who led similar protests in the wake of the 2013 presidential election in which he, as an official runner-up, contested the reelection of President Serzh Sargsyan, again slammed the authorities for their intention to create a “party state” with the proposed constitutional amendments. He urged his supporters and all people of Armenia to struggle for the creation of a “new Armenia”.

In his speech at the rally before an opposition march through the city, Founding Parliament member Jirair Sefilian, the head of New Armenia’s united opposition headquarters, stated: “We are not going to leave this square in the coming hours and, if needed, days… The revolution has begun.”

Unlike other forces campaigning for a “No” vote in the December 6 constitutional referendum New Armenia puts emphasis on achieving a regime change even before the ballot. It considers street protests to be the most efficient way of thwarting the controversial changes that opposition factions believe are going to benefit President Sargsyan by allowing him to stay in power in some other capacity after the end of his presidential powers in 2018.

The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) dismisses such claims, arguing that the reform is needed for ensuring Armenia’s further democratization through achieving decentralization of power.

In interviews with media in the hours before the rally RPA members as well as representatives of other non-governing forces participating in the “Yes” campaign said they were unfazed by the opposition plans for nonstop protests, but urged the opposition protesters to remain peaceful.

The Armenian Police also warned opposition members against “unlawful actions” in a statement issued ahead of the rally.

Meanwhile, representatives of the opposition and some human rights activists accused authorities of restricting bus services during the day with the aim of preventing residents of provinces from traveling to capital Yerevan for the rally.