Aram Sarkisian Quits Presidential Race

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Presidential candidate Aram Sarkisian of the Republic party (Hanrapetutyun) said he is dropping out of the race to increase the likelihood of President Robert Kocharian’s defeat in the February 19 election–and gave his backing to contender Stepan Demirchian of the People’s Party of Armenia.

Demirchian also gained the support of Raffi Hovannisian who recently formed the Zharangutyun movement.

Demirchian’s number one rival Artashes Geghamian unexpectedly failed to win over another opposition candidate–Garnik Markarian of the Socialist Armenia bloc. Markarian declined to comment.

Last November–Socialist Armenia joined forces with Geghamian’s National Unity and the Armenian Communist Party (HKK) to set up a broader left-wing "popular-patriotic alliance" that pledged to come up with a single candidate. Geghamian was widely tipped for that role–especially after the HKK leader Vladimir Darpinian’s withdrawal from the campaign announced on Friday.

Incumbent president Kocharian continued campaigning and met with voters of the Yerevan Kentron community. Accompanying the president–deputy parliament chair Dikran Torosian from the Republican party expressed regret that the opposition has failed to overcome differences to agree on a joint candidate–arguing that a consolidated opposition is necessary to advance the country.

Kocharian focused on the necessity to improve the capital–"as it is not only the capital of Armenia but of all Armenia’s around the world–as well."

Members of the long-term CIS observation mission met on February 10 with the chairman of the Armenian parliament Armen Khachatrian. Having traveled to several election precincts across Armenia to observe pre-election campaigning– the monitors said opposition candidates have been targeting Kocharian rather than presenting their platform on developing the country. Their impression was that the majority of voters have already decided who they will back on February 19. The CIS monitoring mission will release its report on the election process in Armenia on February 20.

Meanwhile–the Prosecutor General’s Office revealed that charges were brought against Grigor Ohanian who was arrested in connection with the violence in Artashat. On February 9–Ohanian was charged with committing violence against NA member Hayk Babukhanian on February 4; an act punishable under two articles of the Criminal Code.

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