YEREVAN (Reuters) – Thousands of opposition supporters marched through the Armenian capital on Friday and vowed to hold a month-long series of protests to demand the resignation of President Serzh Sarksyan and new elections.
The opposition accuses the authorities of ballot-stuffing and intimidation in the February 19 election which official results show was won by Serzh Sarksyan, an ally of outgoing president Robert Kocharyan.
His main challenger, former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan, was placed under house arrest after the vote and violent clashes followed on March 1 in which nine people died.
The protesters, supporters of opposition challenger Levon Ter-Petrosyan, chanted “Levon! Levon!” and “Levon is president”.
A Reuters reporter at the scene estimated the numbers of protesters at up to 5,000 and said there were few policemen seen around the march.
“In the course of July we must maximize the mobilization of the people to prepare for a meeting on August 1,” Ter-Petrosyan said at a meeting before the march. “That means carrying out mass meetings, pickets, sit-ins.”
“From August 1 our slogans will be the resignation of Serzh Sarksyan and new elections,” he said.
Armenia, an ancient Christian nation of 3.2 million, lies in a Caucasus mountains region that is emerging as a key route for pumping Caspian Sea oil and gas to world markets, although the nation has no pipelines of its own.
Nine people died in fighting on March 1 between protesters armed with iron railings and soldiers wielding batons and firing rubber bullets. Seven protesters died and two members of the security forces.