Associated Press Worldstream
April 1, 2004 Thursday 3:42 PM Eastern Time

Armenian opposition criticizes criminal investigation

YEREVAN, Armenia

The leader of Armenia's chief opposition group criticized the
authorities for opening a criminal investigation into its activities,
saying Thursday that the move would heighten tension in the former
Soviet republic.

The prosecutor general's office opened an investigation into the
opposition bloc Justice on Wednesday, accusing its members of public
calls for a change in government and insulting public officials.

Justice leader Stepan Demirchian called the criminal case "the latest
provocation by the authorities" in the Caucasus Mountain nation and
said it marked the beginning of "unprecedented political persecution
of the opposition."

The prosecutors' announcement came amid opposition plans for a major
protest within the coming weeks against President Robert Kocharian
and the government. Opposition leaders have said they would not
resort to violence.

Kocharian won a second term in presidential elections a year ago that
sparked mass protests, including nearly daily demonstrations between
the first round of voting in February 2003 and the runoff in March.
The opposition alleged widespread violations in both rounds of the
election.

Last April, Armenia's Constitutional Court confirmed the results of
the presidential vote but suggested that a referendum be held within
a year to gauge the public's confidence in the nation's leaders.
Opposition leaders have pressed for the plebiscite.