Armenian opposition leader extends hunger strike
Anti-government demonstrators defied riot police to rally in the square.
Yerevan: A US-born Armenian opposition leader extended his hunger strike on a central square in the capital Yerevan on Friday after anti-government demonstrators defied riot police to rally in the square.
More than 12,000 protesters dispersed after the rally late on Thursday, but Raffi Hovhannisian, the US-born leader of the moderate Heritage opposition party, maintained an all-night vigil on a bench in the square, a lawmaker from the party said.
Hovhannisian has been holding a one-man sit-in and refusing food since Tuesday, saying that his only demand is for the government to resign.
"All night people were coming up to him, asking him how he feels and persuading him to stop the hunger strike, but Raffi intends to continue," said the lawmaker, Stepan Safarian.
Riot police had cordoned off Freedom Square before the rally, but demonstrators forced them to withdraw as they staged the biggest protest in Armenia since post-election rallies in 2008 which ended in violence and left 10 people dead.
Angry about jail sentences given to activists after the 2008 unrest and difficult social conditions in the impoverished ex-Soviet state, the opposition is demanding new elections immediately.
Opposition leaders have predicted a bloodless "velvet revolution" in what they say is an attempt to emulate mass uprisings in the Arab world, although the ruling party has said it will not submit to ultimatums.
They plan to hold another rally on April 08.