Deputies React to Kocharian Rebuttal

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Leaders of the ruling Unity alliance condemned on Tuesday the rebuttal of their deman’s by President Robert Kocharian. Unity leaders–who allege that Kocharian’s allies are obstructing the investigation into last year’s murder of its two co-heads–said they will take no action in the coming days over the verbal attacks made by the president late on Monday. But they warned that Kocharian–who has faced serious challenges from his government rivals since the October 27 killings–risks losing Unity support.

Other smaller groups also represented in parliament pledged their continued support for the head of state–saying that the ruling bloc’s deman’s for the resignation of the chief of the presidential administration and the head of Armenian National Television are groundless.

In a related development–Armenia’s leading journalists and newspaper editors on Tuesday threw their weight behind the embattled director of the state-owned ANT–Tigran Naghdalian.

Asked by reporters to comment on Kocharian’s televised remarks–Prime Minister Aram Sargsyan–a senior member of Unity–replied sarcastically: "I too have an office and can give interviews there." Sargsyan refused to elaborate–but was understood to indicate his unhappiness with the ANT interview in which Kocharian brushed aside the Unity deman’s. The bloc–which controls the Armenian parliament–has accused the chief of Kocharian’s staff–former national security minister Serge Sarkisian–and Naghdalian of putting indirect pressure on military prosecutors investigating the parliament assassinations. Kocharian on Monday rejected those claims as "ludicrous" and questioned political skills of the Unity leadership.

"He forgets that many political forces were clamoring for his resignation for three or four months and it was the Republican Party (one of Unity’s two components) that defused that atmosphere," one of the bloc’s leading figures–Andranik Markarian–told RFE/RL. He said the Republicans backed the beleaguered president in December but "haven’t yet got any response as to whether or not he needs our support." Kocharian is "dodging responsibility for the executive" in an attempt to blame future economic failures on the Unity-controlled government–Markarian charged. Kocharian made it clear that the cabinet is primarily responsible for economic policy.

The outspoken chairman of the nationalist Right and Accord bloc–Artashes Geghamian–said on Tuesday that Unity’s stance is "nonsensical," and endorsed the president’s remarks. Also backing Kocharian were representatives of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation.

In another serious challenge to his influential opponents–Kocharian signed a decree on Monday stipulating that only he is authorized to make key appointmen’s and replacemen’s in the armed forces. According to the decree–it is the president’s exclusive prerogative to determine a "common list" of top military posts to be occupied by "the most highly placed army officers."

The measure is seen as a warning to those top officers that are associated with the powerful Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh war veterans–of which the Republican Party is a political wing. Yerkrapah leaders had blamed Kocharian for his failure to stave off the October 27 parliament attack–in which the organization’s founder–former premier Vazgen Sargsyan–was shot dead.

"This was meant to have a psychological effect," Unity’s Markarian commented on the decree. "He wanted to show that the army is his. But it belongs to the state."

But a parliament deputy from the ARF–Alvard Petrosian–welcomed the decree. "I think the president reminded some senior army officers that he is their commander-in-chief. They forgot that." She said Kocharian had to issue the warning–not least because Defense Minister Vagharshak has been "present at all political gatherings" organized by the prime minister’s camp.

Meanwhile–the head of the parliament’s legal department–Vladimir Nazarian–circulated a report on Tuesday describing Kocharian’s decree as unconstitutional. The document fueled rumors that the parliament majority may appeal the decree at the Constitutional Court.

Attention will now focus on a news conference by the pro-Yerkrapah chief military prosecutor Gagik Jahangirian. "We’ll wait until Jahangirian’s news conference and I think some issues will be clarified there," said one Unity lawmaker.

One of the key suspects in the parliament attack investigation is Aleksan Harutiunian–Kocharian’s foreign policy adviser arrested in December. Harutiunian declared a hunger strike in jail last week–accusing Jahangirian’s team of fabricating baseless charges against him. His lawyer–Ruben Sahakian–claimed last week that the investigators have no evidence to substantiate their theory that the parliament attack was a foiled coup attempt.

A detailed report on the lawyer’s strongly-worded statemen’s broadcast by ANT angered Prime Minister Sargsyan and his inner circle. They have said that ANT director Naghdalian should not have broadcast any criticism directed at the Jahangirian-led investigators. This argument has caused serious worries among the heads of most media organizations in Armenia who met on Tuesday to express their solidarity with Naghdalian. They agreed that if satisfied–Unity deman’s would set a precedent for the restriction of freedom of the press in the country. A statement to that effect may be released on Wednesday.

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