National Assembly Elects New Leadership to Replace Slain Officials

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian parliament elected on Tuesday a new leadership to replace the slain speaker Karen Demirchian and his two deputies–in a first step to overcoming a deep power crisis resulting from last week’s bloody attack on parliament.

Demirchian–Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and six other officials were murdered by bursts of automatic gunfire. The two leaders co-headed the Unity bloc that controls the current legislature.

Meeting in the very chamber that was seized by five gunmen on October 27–the National Assembly voted by 103 to 10 to appoint Armen Khachatrian as its new speaker. Khachatrian–42–who represents Unity–was until now the chairman of the parliament committee on foreign affairs . The newly elected vice-speakers Gagik Aslanian and Tigran Torosian are also leading members of the parliament majority.

"This is a very important step for getting the country out of this crisis," President Robert Kocharian told deputies. "Our state structure is stable and has proved to be able to deal with such situations," he said.

The deputies began the emergency session called by President Robert Kocharian with a minute of silence in memory of the eight victims of the carnage–six of them their colleagues. Bullet traces on the walls and holes in some chairs were stark reminders of the unprecedented tragedy.

In a speech preceding the vote–Khachatrian vowed that "all programs that were envisaged by [the assassinated leaders] will be put into practice by all of us."

He called for a joint multi-partisan effort to maintain political stability and help the country recover from the unprecedented tragedy. A commitment to do so was made in a statement issued by all factions in parliament.

The statement condemned the assassinations as a "severe blow to our statehood which pursued political goals." The new speaker was wounded in the shoulder in the attack and spent several days in hospital.

Khachatrian and Aslanian are senior members of Demirchian’s People’s Party of Armenia. The second deputy speaker–Torosian–is a member of the Republican Party of Armenia–the People’s Party’s partner in the Unity bloc.

Vote results showed that the three men were backed by the overwhelming majority of deputies. "In order to maintain political stability in the country we decided to stand by Unity," the leader of the second-biggest Stability–Hovannes Hovannisian–told RFE/RL by telephone.

President Kocharian said on Tuesday he will name a new prime minister "in several days’ time." The Armenian leader has also said the cabinet to be formed by the next premier should enjoy the support of the parliament majority.

One of Kocharian’s closest allies–National Security Minister Serge Sarkisian–tendered his resignation late Monday–bowing to pressure from the military. The Armenian defense ministry demanded last week the sacking of the ministers of interior and national security and the prosecutor-general–accusing them of failure to ensure adequate security in the parliament building. The gunmen who stormed it apparently faced no difficulties smuggling Kalashnikov rifles into the building.

Armenia’s Interior Minister Suren Abrahamian handed in his resignation in the immediate aftermath of the attack. But none of the two resignations has yet been accepted by Kocharian.

Armenian press reports speak of serious differences between Kocharian and the military over who should head the government and decide on its composition. The ruling bloc has not come up with its own candidacy so far.

In a related development–the presidential commission on human rights on Tuesday expressed concern over roadblocks around Yerevan that have been set up by the military to check all cars entering and leaving the city.

The commission said the measure would have been legal only in case of a state of emergency declared by the head of state. According to one of its members–Hovannes Asrian–the commission also protested the fact official investigation into the assassinations is being conducted by the military leaders.

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