Appeals Mount for ArmenTel Boycott

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–In appeals issued Monday–Armenia’s Youth Party and the Confederation of Trade Unions joined a number of other public and political organizations in their protests against ArmenTel telecommunications company’s recent rate hikes and monopoly of the industry.

In its announcement–the Youth Party called on the population to refrain from paying ArmenTel bills until the monthly service charges of the company are lowered to 600 drams and local phone calls are made free of charge. The party also called on the government to break up ArmenTel’s monopoly.

Youth Party chairman Sargis Asatrian told journalists that the Greek OTE–a 90 percent shareholder in the ArmenTel–has not fulfilled its obligations to the Armenian government. According to Asartrian–from the $150 million agreed sale price of the company–OTE has thus far only deposited $75 million. Instead of a scheduled $50 million worth of development and modernization investmen’s–OTE only made $5.6 million in 1998.

And–this–said Asatrian–is reason enough for the government to nullify the privatization agreement and break up the monopoly.

Asatrian went on to say–at the press conference–that Merril Lynch–the facilitator of the deal–made some $15 million from the deal–and a portion of this–according to Asartrian–was later deposited in personal accounts of high-ranking Armenian officials.

Among those officials–Asatrian named former minister Vahram Avanessian–who fosters a close relationship with Merril Lynch representative to the deal Paul Pittman.

Asatrian also informed journalists that demonstrations were being planned to demand the dissolution of the ArmenTel deal.

Also protesting the ArmenTel privatization deal–the Confederation of Trade Unions in its announcement declared it staunch opposition to the nine-fold telecommunications rate hike in the last year.

"In such unbearable economic and social times–rate hikes such as this are not acceptable–when portions of the country are still struggling to pay electricity bills," said the announcement.

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