Kocharian Signals Support for ARF Unity Bloc in Elections

YEREVAN (RFE/RL–Noyan Tapan)–President Robert Kocharian said Wednesday he sympathizes with the aims of the alliance of Defense Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and former Communist leader Karen Demirchian and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

At a news conference devoted to his first year in office–Kocharian said his "sympathy" belongs to the Unity bloc and the ARF and he "cooperate[s]" with the two groups.

Unity is seen as the best placed to win the parliamentary elections on May 30 due to Demirchian’s popularity and Sargsyan’s control of many government bodies. Demirchian was Kocharian’s main challenger in last year’s presidential election.

The ARF–for its part–has been allied with the head of state ever since he lifted a ban on the party in February 1998. The ARF is also seen as a major contender in the polls. The two forces are likely to remain in what observers expect to be a reshuffled government after the elections.

However–Kocharian added that "other sound political forces" may also "participate in the formation of the executive authority." He did not say what those forces are–however.

Kocharian expressed satisfaction with the course of the election campaign in Armenia. "I have seen no elemen’s of [political] psychosis yet," he said.

Kocharian described as a great achievement the elimination of the atmosphere of fear during the first year of his presidency–reported the Noyan Tapan news agency.

During the Wednesday news conference he said that the current situation in Armenia cannot be compared to that which existed during the last three years.

Robert Kocharian described last year as quite difficult from the economic viewpoint. Given the Russian crisis–the economic year in Armenia may be described as positive. Kocharian referred to the opinion of international financial institutions–according to which "perhaps–of CIS-member countries everything possible was done in Armenia."

According to the president–although last year started quite successfully (during the first 8 months of 1998 exports grew by 28 percent and the government expected to achieve 10-12 percent growth of gross domestic product and projected that exports growth would be over 30 percent)–after the Russian crisis the economic indices started to worsen. Following that–in September 1998 both the government and president "switched to anti-crisis measures" and the primary task was to maintain the financial system and macroeconomic stability. Despite some difficulties–the problems were resolved.

The president said that positive changes are obvious in the processing industry and agricultural sector–however–the work of large enterprises has worsened. Armenia has lost large sums because of the decrease in the volume of private transfers from Russia–which could not but affect the social condition of the population.

Kocharian said there had been a breakthrough in the restoration of the earthquake zone. In 1999 and 2000 these works will be doubled. Also reforms in the judicial sphere which "were on the verge of collapse" have been successfully completed. "We have passed to a system of family allowances," the president said.

The president described Armenia’s foreign policy as "more active–dynamic–more pragmatic and efficient." Kocharian said that the OSCE Minsk group’s latest proposals on the Karabakh settlement are still effective and the works are still being carried out within the framework of these proposals.

Robert Kocharian noted the importance of the publication of the annual report on human rights by the presidential Human Rights Commission and the submission of the law on ombudsman to the National Assembly. He also stressed the importance of the report on Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe by Demetrio Volcic–which "significantly and qualitatively differs from the previous reports." He also mentioned Armenia’s response to the Human Rights Watch report–saying: "Nobody has ever answered the questions so clearly."

Since "there is no need to convince Armenia’s of the fact of the genocide"–president stressed the importance of his visit to the United States on April 24–adding that his participation in arrangemen’s in the US promoted the formation of an opinion about the issue of recognition of the genocide. The president also described as useful his participation in the NATO summit–although "we are not happy about those developmen’s–which are currently going on–and in my address I voiced my concern to this effect."

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