Sarkisian Says Opposition Voice Will be Heard

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)-President Serzh Sarkisian Monday announced his support for proposals that would give Armenia’s opposition and non-parliamentary forces more rights and a greater voice in society.
The proposals called for more rights for the opposition minority in the National Assembly and greater "pluralism" in the news coverage of Armenian state television.
Sarkisian’s statemen’s came as he chaired a meeting of a working group, composed of senior law-enforcement officials and lawmakers tasked with ensuring his administration’s compliance with the April 17 resolution on Armenia adopted by the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE). One of the key deman’s contained in the resolution is the "urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges."
Sarkisian also confirmed plans to set up a consultative "public council" comprising "various strata of society," including opposition forces not represented in the parliament.
"We stand for dialogue and want to solve problems through dialogue," he said.
The presidential working group has suggested that the changes be implemented by an ad hoc commission formed by the Armenian parliament. While backing the idea, Sarkisian said that the commission should not "get into details of the ongoing criminal case" and should instead "make political evaluations and present proposals."
While discussing ongoing court trials for opposition activists charged with inciting social unrest in the wake of February’s presidential elections, Sarkisian said Armenian prosecutors and courts should not imprison anyone for their political views.
"It is important that we be guided by criminal law and that there be no political decisions," Sarkisian said in reference to dozens of radical opposition supporters arrested in the wake of the vote.
"No one who committed a grave crime must stay unpunished," he added. "However, a person must not be sentenced for their political convictions and beliefs."
A handful of prominent oppositionists have been released pending trial so far. Dozens of others remain in jail for their alleged involvement in the March 1 clashes in Yerevan. Some have already been given prison sentences on these and other charges related to post-election protests. Court hearings on these cases, accompanied by mass hunger strikes and courtroom protests by angry opposition supporters, have taken place on a virtually daily basis over the past month.
In his remarks released by the presidential press service, Sarkisian said he is committed to meeting the deman’s contained in the PACE resolution because he believes that they are "in Armenia’s interests." He specifically accepted the PACE call for the launch of an independent inquiry into the deadly unrest in Yerevan.

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