ARF Leadership Downplays Council of Europe Criticism

STRESS NECESSITY FOR REFORMS–NEED TO RECTIFY MISTAKES

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–On Monday–an ad hoc Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) committee responsible for monitoring the May 25 elections in Armenia’submitted a report to the lawmakers from the Council of Europe which detailed widespread fraud during the election. The report recommended that the assembly should "consider challenging the ratification of credentials of the new Armenian delegation given the scope and gravity of irregularities–in particular–during the vote count." As a result–during a PACE session on Monday–there was a call for sanctions against Armenia.

On Tuesday–senior Armenian lawmaker and Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) of Armenia Supreme Body Representative Armen Rustamian downplayed the significance of the call for political sanctions. Rustamian said that the report’s suggestion that PACE strip its Armenian members of voting rights entails "no legal consequences."

"It can not be considered a decision taken by the Council of Europe," he said in Strasbourg.

Deputy Speaker Vahan Hovannisian also expressed doubts about the likelihood of unfavorable action against Armenia. "I don’t think that our delegation will be stripped of its mandate–or there will be other extremely unfavorable consequences for Armenia," said deputy speaker Vahan Hovannisian.

However–Hovannisian did admit that there was "substantial" fraud during the election. He stressed that the Armenian authorities must take the international criticism very seriously and "rectify the mistakes." Rustamian likewise said that the authorities must embark on a sweeping reform of Armenia’s flawed electoral system.

Rustamian said the recommendation took him by surprise; no PACE deputy except Rustamian spoke out against it during the ensuing debate on Monday.

The ARF also brought forth allegations of massive vote rigging–but citing the need for continued political stability in the country–nevertheless–agreed to join the government coalition.

PACE SAYS FLAT-OUT ‘NO’ TO AZERBAIJAN

During the same session–PACE denied Azerbaijan’s request to postpone discussions about Azerbaijan’s political prisoners until next January in consideration of upcoming elections in Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani authorities have consciously ignored Council of Europe’s (CE) deman’s to return political prisoners by June 23–2003–despite clear indications by CE representatives that they would not yield to Azeri whims–and declaration that "all political prisoners should be immediately released."

"No CE country should have political prisoners. . .," said PACE Chairman Peter Schieder.

However–the Azeri delegation declared that there are no political prisoners in Azerbaijan.

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