Ararktsian Urged to Stay Following Resignation Bid

YEREVAN (Reuter–Noyan Tapan)–Armenia’s National Assembly refused to accept the resignation of its speaker–Babken Ararktsian Wednesday after he quit in protest over plans to extend military conscription.

The assembly voted 131 to 11 not to accept Ararktsian’s resignation–after he had vociferously opposed a provision in a new law that obliged virtually all 18-year olds to serve in the military.

Ararktsian wanted students in higher education to be exempt but said the Defense Ministry had applied pressure to parliament to exclude this.

It was not clear what impact if any the parliament’s vote would have if Ararktsian insisted on quitting. Wednesday’s session was the last before a long summer recess and there is no provision in the constitution on how to resolve such a problem.

Ararktsian spoke against the government bill depriving students at institutions of higher education of the right to defer military service. According to the alternative bill by Ararktsian–students could be drafted only after completing their studies.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan proposed a compromise measure following which the government bill would go into effect next year. The proposal was supported by 100 votes–while Ararktsian’s proposal won 55 of the parliament vote.

Ararktsian told the National Assembly that the Defense Ministry had "applied pressure to parliament" to adopt a law that all men must enter the armed forces of the former Soviet republic at 18–dropping exclusions previously granted for students.

Ararktsian–a close ally of Levon Ter-Petrosyan–said he did not have the power to resist the pressure from the Defense Ministry. "Either that–or I don’t understand how the republic should work," he told parliament.

Ter-Petrosyan supported the extended conscription–saying Armenia needed to keep the army strong to act as a counterweight to the Azeris.

Political observers in Yerevan said Ararktsian’s resignation represented a serious rift in the ruling "Republic" bloc and could weaken Ter-Petrosyan’s ability to govern the landlocked former Soviet republic of 3.5 million people.

"In Armenia there is an internal political crisis–an external political crisis and an economic crisis and all of those crises together could make an impact. Only God knows what will happen," said David Shahnazaryan–a member of parliament and a former intelligence chief.

The parliament is dominated by Ter-Petrosyan’s supporters but the 51-year-old leader has been under fire from opposition forces who say he rigged a 1996 presidential vote. Foreign monitors said the election was flawed.

Ter-Petrosyan signed a decree on Tuesday combining four economic ministries into two and dismissing the economy and industry ministers.


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