CEC Members Beaten During Manoukian Campaign Rally

YEREVAN (Itar-Tass–Noyan Tapan)–Three prominent opposition members were beaten up during Sunday’s election rally for presidential candidate Vazgen Manoukian in Ararat–in southern Armenia–a Central Electoral Commission member told Itar-Tass.

Vova Hakhverdian–said lawmaker Arshak Sadoyan–commission member Filaret Berikyan and chairman of the opposition party National State Samvel Shahinyan were entangled in a fist fight that was fueled by unidentified people during the rally.

Berikyan is in an intensive care unit following a surgery for shoulder injuries sustained during the fight. The other two were also hospitalized–a spokesman for the National Democratic Union reported. Sadoyan and Berikyan are members of the union led by Manoukian–a former prime minister and current presidential hopeful from the opposition. On Sunday–Manoukian campaigned in the nearby Armavir province.

International observers were informed about the beating. Kocharian’s Campaign Responds

"We condemn all crimes during the election campaign," Robert Kocharian campaign manager Vladimir Movsissian said regarding the beatings during Vazgen Manoukian’s rally. Movsissian stressed that one should be cautious to prevent competition from growing into brawls.

Movsissian reported that the Prosecutor’s Office has instituted criminal proceedings and all culprits acting independent of their party will be arraigned before a court of law. He also said that Acting President and Prime Minister Kocharian wants the culprits to be found and punished as soon as possible–because he believes that this incident was targeted against him.

Campaign spokesperson Aghvan Vartanian said that such incidents aggravate the situation and it is necessary to find out who benefits from them. "Certainly–Robert Kocharian does not benefit from this," Vartanian said.

Kocharian released the following statement on Monday:

Dear compatriots,

There remains only one week until the early presidential election. Beginning on March 7 all candidates launched their campaigns–meeting with electors–and presenting their platforms.

At this point–Armenia is receiving international attention. We are obliged to stand the test of time with honor–and to create an atmosphere which allows faith in the country’s democratic nature.

Unfortunately–not everyone has realized this reality. And the March 8 incident in Ararat proves that. I condemn that act of violence–regardless of those responsible and against those which it was aimed. Such incidents–first of all–work against the healthy atmosphere of the country–against the authority of our state–and against me.

As Acting President and Prime Minister of Armenia–I instructed the prosecutor’s office–interior and national security ministry to unveil those responsible in a short period of time and punish them.

We must approach the moment with utmost seriousness and clearly realize that the organization of a free and fair election is a matter of vital importance for us.

I am deeply convinced that only this way will we be able to set a new basis for the solution of problems our people and country are facing today.

NDU Responds

"Attempts are made to oust us from the political field and onto that of violence–as for certain forces this is the only field in which they can function," National-Democratic Union leader and presidential candidate Vazgen Manoukian said in his Sunday television address–regarding the Ararat incident.

Chairman of the Ararat Chapter of the NDU Hrayr Hakopian reported that during the rally four cars arrived from which stepped out people who demanded that the rally be stopped.

Hakopian said that the rally was permitted by local authorities. He reported that one hour before the rally all telephones of the local NDU offices were malfunctioning. The telephones were began working following the incident. According to Hakopian–the assailants were members of Kocharian’s campaign team.

In his television address–Manoukian said that the NDU holds the license plate numbers of the cars of those responsible for the incident. According to him–the Ararat incident proves that somebody wants to intimidate the people.

Manoukian said that people who claim that they do everything in the name of Karabakh are guided by their narrow interests only. "I call on the people not to allow for such violence–as election held through violence would mean the collapse of Armenia," Manoukian said.

OSCE Responds

The monitoring mission of the OSCE Democratic Institutions and Human Rights Office issued on Monday the following statement in connection with the Ararat incident:

"The OSCE-DIHRO monitoring mission is deeply concerned over the events in Ararat during which a rally in fringes of the presidential election campaign was at first wrecked–then giving way to violence. Eight people were injured–two men–including a member of the Central Electoral Commission–were taken to the hospital.

Among the primary principles in the pledges OSCE adopted in Copenhagen in 1990 in the sphere of public election processes is the principle of freedom. Under the provision 7.7 of the pledge the countries-participants are obliged:"… to ensure the work of law and public policy so that the election campaign should go on in conditions of free and independent atmosphere during which any administrative acts–violence or criticism cannot be an obstacle for parties and candidates to freely present their opinions–or electors to receive information."

The mission sharply condemns violence on the part of any group and any purpose.

The mission is informed that relevant state agencies have already begun investigating the incident. We call on those agencies to reach a quick result. Immediate reaction to such violence in the election process will assure the world community that the government will not tolerate such breaches in the democratic process. Furthermore–that will prove to the Armenian people that its government guarantees each individual’s right to take part in the political process without any pressure or violence."

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