Dozens Arrested During Opposition Protests Outside Armenian Security Service

Armenian police have arrested more than 90 protesters in Yerevan after National Security Service (HAAT) officers searched the home and office of an opposition leader over alleged economic crimes.

Armenian police spokesman Ashot Aharonian said that more than 90 people were briefly detained.

Mass gatherings are currently banned in Armenia due to a state of emergency imposed over the coronavirus pandemic.

The arrests took place after clashes between police and protesters outside HAAT headquarters after its officers conducted the searches as part of a criminal investigation of the Prosperous Armenia party's leader.

The HAAT said it had searched the home of opposition politician Gagik Tsarukian and offices of his Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) as part of an investigation into "financial crimes."

The businessman is suspected of conducting unlicensed gambling activities that have deprived the government of tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. Tsarukian claims the allegations are politically motivated and aimed at silencing his criticism of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

BHK, which has 25 of 132 seats in the Armenian parliament, is the largest opposition party.

Hundreds of supporters of Tsarukian gathered outside the HAAT's headquarters, shouting, "Pashinian, step down!"

The HAAT said in a statement cited by AFP that Tsarukian has been summoned for questioning. As a member of parliament, however, he has immunity from prosecution.

Armenia has a fast-growing outbreak with 16,667 cases on June 14 and 269 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

Armenia began relaxing its strict lockdown rules in mid-April at a time when new infections were rising sharply.

Pashinian warned on June 13 that the spread of the coronavirus in his country was "bad" and said the latest figures upset him.

He made the comment the day after the government decided to extend the coronavirus state of emergency until July 13.

With reporting by AP and AFP

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