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Armenia arrests boxer-turned-activist ahead of Thursday rally

YEREVAN - EurasiaNet | 3/17/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Some analysts in Armenia believe that the arrest of an opposition activist and former European boxing champion before a planned rally on Thursday is a hostile sign.

The arrest of opposition activist and former European boxing champion Samson Khachatrian shortly before a planned rally on Thursday is a signal that the government is preparing for a fight, according to political analysts.

“[Khachatrian’s detention] is a provocation, a persecution for one’s political views,” Armenian National Congress, or ANC, coordinator Levon Zurabian told EurasiaNet.

After more than a three-year lull, Armenia’s fragmented opposition groups are again active. Thousands took to the streets en masse on March 1 for a rally in downtown Yerevan, organized by ex-President Levon Ter-Petrosian’s ANC.

The group was to stage a Thursday rally during which Ter-Petrosian was to announce his group’s next steps. To promote the event, opposition supporters posted revolutionary slogans on the social networking website Facebook.

The opposition’s protest push has sought to capitalize on the general awareness of the popular uprisings in North Africa against entrenched regimes. In addition, the opposition is trying to take advantage of widespread anger at higher food prices and tensions raised by recent protests of the government’s economic policies.

On Tuesday, the change in the country’s mood was underscored by the usually reserved opposition leader Raffi Hovhannisian, founder of the tiny Heritage Party, kicking off a hunger strike – a “Fast for Freedom” – in Yerevan’s Freedom Square, once a popular site for demonstrations.

Against this backdrop, the government’s decision to mix it up with a celebrated boxer could backfire, some observers believe. In a country known for its reverence of martial arts, the 51-year-old Khachatrian, a five-time Soviet boxing champion and 1985 European boxing champion, has instant name recognition in Armenia.

“This arrest can be seen as political blackmail,” said political analyst Manvel Sarkisian at the Armenian Center for National and International Studies. 

Khachatrian is also a member of the ANC and he appeared at the March 1 rally. He was arrested near Yerevan’s Dinamo stadium on Sunday and charged with resisting police and causing bodily harm to a police officer during the demonstration at the beginning of March. The charges carry a potential five-year prison term.

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