Kocharian to Ease Media Restrictions

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian pledged on Wednesday to ease a state of emergency which he imposed earlier this month after opposition protests led to violent clashes with police.
Kocharian also warned the opposition not to stage any new protests while political tension remained high.

“I will sign this evening or tomorrow morning a decree that will change this approach,” Kocharian he said in televised commen’s made during a visit to a construction site in Yerevan. “Now, under the state of emergency, we are telling you what you can do regarding the internal political situation. After signing the decree we will tell you what you can not do.”
“Those restrictions will be very narrow,” he told journalists accompanying him. “They will relate to provocative actions, the spread of overtly false information. All of you will be much freer to express your views and approaches, to report analyses and information in general.”
As a result of the emergency rule, Armenian media can only cite the government and law-enforcement bodies when covering domestic political affairs.
Armenia’s Human Rights Commissioner Armen Harutiunian, also called for the complete abolition of the restrictions on press freedom. "I believe that pluralism is very important for democratic societies," he told a news conference.
Kocharian acknowledged that the information blackout may have given rise to political gossip that has been circulating in Yerevan since his government quelled opposition demonstrations against the official results of the February 19 election.
"Maybe there is a lack of information and maybe this decree will somehow help to address this problem," he said.
Kocharian also said that contrary to speculation by opposition leaders, he has "no plans yet" to extend the state of emergency beyond March 20. He said no violations of emergency rule have been registered so far.
But Kocharian warned the opposition against renewed protest rallies in Yerevan.
Even talking about staging protests just 11 days after a bloody clash between opposition demonstrators and security forces left eight people dead and dozens hurt is nonsense, the President said.
According to Kocharian, rallies and other mass assemblies should be avoided for some time until tensions decrease and society becomes less polarized.
"I advise that all citizens refrain from participation in rallies and ignore provocative statemen’s," Kocharian stated as he spoke of the possibility of renewed clashes if protests were to resume before society cooled down.
"Maybe, some people will be glad to see renewed clashes and new casualties because it will give foreign media an occasion to criticize the Armenian authorities, but the authorities will not allow it," he said.
Kocharian said everyone should realize that the weaker Armenia is the bigger will be the temptation to exert pressure on the country and its new president. What is going on in Armenia right now is a textbook example of foreign intervention, Kocharian said.
Kocharian told reporters that the situation is not irreversible and things can return to normal in a month or two. But all those who instigated the riot must be held accountable, he said, adding, that if this is not done the provocative actions will continue.
The recent unrest has also negatively affected the economy, Kocharian told journalists at the press conference. The tourism sector has suffered drastically, he explained.

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