Kocharian Shrugs Off Sacking Deman’s

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Robert Kocharian publicly defied his political rivals in government late Monday–rejecting their deman’s to sack his chief of staff and the loyal director of Armenian state television.

In an interview with Armenian National Television–Kocharian described as "ludicrous" Friday’s statement by the Unity bloc which accused the two officials of exerting pressure on the investigation into the October 27 assassinations.

Kocharian said ANT did not breach the law by covering a news conference–during which the investigators close to the Unity bloc were accused of making trumped-up charges against innocent individuals.

The director of the state-run Armenian National Television–Tigran Naghdalian–brushed aside on Saturday deman’s for his resignation by the ruling Unity bloc. Naghdalian announced that he will not bow to the pressure–which he said threatens the freedom of speech in Armenia.

"First of all–I don’t see grounds for my registration and I am not going to quit my post," Naghdalian told RFE/RL. "Secondly–the president of the republic has no authority to decide whether or not I should work here." The head of ANT is appointed and dismissed by a board trustees–under the existing regulations. Naghdalian and most members of the board are believed to be loyal to Kocharian.

The probe is led by chief military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian–who has close ties with the Unity bloc and the prime minister. The latter have been angered by ANT’s coverage on Thursday of a news conference–during which the investigators were accused of prosecuting innocent individuals. The allegations were made by the lawyers of ANT’s deputy director and Kocharian’s arrested aide–Aleksan Harutiunian.

The Unity bloc’s statement described the coverage as a "blatant information pressure" on Jahangirian’s team initiated by the chief of the presidential staff and Kocharian’s closest associate–Serge Sarkisian. But Naghdalian categorically denied that his organization is "under the control" of Sarkisian. He said it is "absurd" to punish him for reporting on an event that was covered in detail by the entire Armenian media. The deman’s by the prime minister and his loyalists amount to an "official appeal to the president to impose censorship in this country," he warned.

Meanwhile–other major political groups gave a mixed reaction to the latest developmen’s. Former prime minister Vazgen Manukian–whose National Democratic Union joined the newly reshuffled cabinet last week–was unimpressed by the argumen’s of Unity bloc’s leaders. He told RFE/RL that the statement did not specify how the Kocharian’s chief of staff obstructs the investigation of the parliament attack and that the outcry over ANT’s coverage of the controversial news conference is unfounded.

One of the lawyers–Ruben Sahakian–is the defense counsel of presidential adviser Aleksan Harutiunian–who was arrested in December on charges of involvement in the parliament killings.

Kocharian insisted that the lawyers did not obstruct justice by publicizing their concerns about what they see as a deeply flawed inquiry. In a first-ever attack on the Unity bloc–of which Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan is a member–the Armenian president questioned the political maturity and responsibility of its leaders–suggesting that the bloc’s rank-and-file members should "draw appropriate conclusions from that." He further suggested that one of the bloc’s two components–the People’s Party of Armenia founded by the late parliament speaker Karen Demirchian–was not an initiator of the statement–pointing the finger to the Unity bloc’s dominant component–Sargsyan’s Republican Party.

The Republican Party’s sister organization is the powerful Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans whose leaders hold senior positions in the Armenian military. In a move that was apparently meant to warn Yerkrapah of his sweeping constitutional powers–Kocharian signed a decree on Monday stipulating that only he is authorized to make key appointmen’s and endorse promotions in the armed forces.

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