Armenian Opposition gears up for mass round-the-clock rally

Armenian Opposition gears up for mass round-the-clock rally
# 28 February 2008 09:06 (UTC +04:00)
Protesters are calling for Armenian authorities to annul the result of the February 19 election, which handed victory to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian over Opposition challenger Levon Ter-Petrosian, over alleged fraud.
Wednesday was the eighth straight day of protests for the Opposition.
Activists were planning a mass rally later in the day, following a protest on Tuesday that brought tens of thousands into the streets of Yerevan - a higher number than rallies held in previous days.
Several thousand Opposition supporters spent the night at a protest camp set up on Freedom Square in central Yerevan. Their numbers dwindled to around 1,500 people later on Wednesday ahead of the rally.
The activists slept in more than 40 tents marked with the names of the regions from which they had come or sat around campfires on the asphalt, talking into the night. Some slept in cars parked nearby.
"It’s the fifth day I’m sleeping out here," said Styopa Sargsian, 22, a musician from the city of Vanadzor in northern Armenia.
"My friends and I brought our instruments with us. We play folk songs at night. It’s very emotional here. It inspires us," he added.
Sargis Avetian said he was protesting in the square for the seventh day running, taking turns with some friends to sleep for a few hours in a three-person tent nearby.
"We’re ready to stay here as long as we have to," Avetian said.
The protests are not sanctioned by the authorities, and President Robert Kocharian, who backed Sarkisian in the election, warned in an address on national television that the Government’s patience was wearing thin.
In a sign of rising tensions, Armenia’s security services also said earlier that two groups of opposition activists have been arrested for illegal weapons possession and plotting against the government.
Several former officials have also joined the protests.
Ter-Petrosian, a former president of this mountainous former Soviet republic, ran on an anti-corruption platform and alleges massive vote fraud and beatings of his supporters.
He has so far rejected an offer of talks made by Sarkisian at a pro-Government rally on Tuesday in which the President-elect mentioned the possibility of a coalition deal with the Opposition.
"We appeal to all former presidential candidates and all political forces supporting them: let us cooperate right up to the formation of a coalition government," Mr Sarkisian said at Tuesday’s rally.
The Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have called for restraint. OSCE observers said earlier that the election "mostly" met international standards.