Manoukian Sees Troubled Spring

By Lawrence Sheets YEREVAN (Reuter)–A "Belgrade Spring" of rallies and civil disobedience could force the Armenian government out of power–opposition leader Vazgen Manoukian said Wednesday. Vazgen Manoukian–the former prime minister who says he won last year’s controversial presidential poll–will meet other top opposition figures Saturday. They are expected to call for measures to force Levon Ter-Petrosyan to quit or agree to new elections. "Meetings–demonstrations–universal civil disobedience–this is the natural way to apply pressure. We’ll have to see how this works out," Manoukian told Reuters in an interview. "People watch television and take lessons from one another. They know that just to demand won’t bring anything. You have to stand behind your deman’s. Therefore people in society talk all the time about a Belgrade option–because it brought victory," said the 51-year-old physicist. Protesters forced changes to local administrations in Belgrade and other parts of Serbia with massive daily rallies after authorities annulled a string of opposition electoral victories in local elections in November. Ter-Petrosyan claimed victory over Manoukian in last September’s election–but international observers said the vote to keep him in office was marred by fraud and irregularities. Ter-Petrosyan then sent tanks into the streets of the capital and security forces arrested and beat dozens of his political opponents after protests by Manoukian supporters. Ter-Petrosyan aides could not be contacted for comment. The crackdown–in which several political parties had their headquarters temporarily shut down–gave Ter-Petrosyan breathing room but failed to stamp out discontent. The Armenian opposition wants new presidential and parliamentary elections. The last parliamentary election–held in 1995–was also criticized by international observers as flawed. The vote gave Ter-Petrosyan’s backers a huge majority in the 190-member body. "If the population does not believe in the legitimacy of the government–it is difficult do anything at all," Manoukian said. He said there had been no meaningful talks between the opposition and the government since September. "They (the government) are afraid to compromise because they know that could lead to even more compromises," he said. Manoukian criticized Ter-Petrosyan’s choice last week of Robert Kocharian as Prime Minister–saying he was looking for a way to divert pressure away from political troubles by choosing a figure respected by a wide spectrum of Armenia’s. "Ter-Petrosyan is trying to use Kocharian to build a wall between himself and the opposition," he said.

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