People’s Party Leaders Cry ‘Blackmail’

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The People’s Party of Armenia views the recent removal of its members from various echelons of the government as a "political persecution" for its increasingly critical stance on the authorities–a party spokesman’said on Thursday. "The principled stand we have taken was the main reason for the blackmail to which some of our comrades were subjected," Stepan Minasian–chief of staff in the People’s Party’s governing board–told RFE/RL.

The sacking on Tuesday of deputy minister of education–Robert Zargarian–was the latest in a series of staff changes that saw several officials affiliated with the People’s Party losing their government jobs. Another party activist–Deputy Minister of Transport and Communication Ruben Tonoyan–was relieved of his duties earlier this month. According to Minasian–other lower-level officials were also told to quit.

Political analysts believe that the firings came as a warning to the People’s Party–which is inching towards a final rupture with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party–its partner in the governing Unity alliance. A senior Republican on Wednesday admitted political motives behind the staff changes–accusing the People’s Party of thwarting government efforts to implement the bloc’s 1999 electoral platform. The party–which was founded in 1998 by Karen Demirchian–Armenia’s longtime Soviet-era leader gunned down in last October’s attack on the parliament–is unhappy with the government’s economic policy and is considering joining forces with the opposition Right and Accord bloc.

Two ministers in Markarian’s cabinet have close ties with the People’s Party. They denied on Thursday rumors that they might also be forced to step down. The government will have a struggle to push its initiatives through the parliament if the Demirchian party eventually joins the opposition camp

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