Armenian police detain opposition activists

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YEREVAN, Oct 23 (Reuters) Police in Armenia today detained opposition activists who were publicising a rally at which former president Levon Ter-Petrosyan is expected to return to politics after years of silence, Armenian media said.

The former president bowed out of public life when he was ousted from office in 1998. If he joins the opposition, it would represent the biggest challenge in years to the ruling elite led by President Robert Kocharyan.

The Yerkir television station reported that police detained at least five people, including opposition activists and two journalists, as they walked through the centre of Yerevan urging people to attend the November 26 rally.

Footage broadcast by the station showed police trying to seize the activists' loud-hailer, after which scuffles broke out and police appeared to set off a tear gas canister.

Armenia is a mountainous ex-Soviet state of about three million people north of Iran and east of Turkey.

The opposition is divided and has failed to find a leader to challenge Kocharyan, who has overseen strong economic growth.

Armenian media have speculated that Ter-Petrosyan could head an opposition coalition.

Kocharyan has said he will step down next year when his term ends. Most observers expect his long-standing ally and prime minister, Serzh Sarksyan, to run for the presidency as Kocharyan's anointed successor.

Ter-Petrosyan was forced to resign from the presidency because concessions he backed to resolve a territorial dispute with neighbouring Azerbaijan provoked a storm of anger, including from some of his own ministers.

Reuters AK VP0125

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