YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–President Robert Kocharian dismissed on Wednesday a prominent army general and deputy defense minister who is thought to have tacitly supported opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian in Armenia’s troubled presidential election.
A short statement by Kocharian’s office did not say why Lieutenant-General Manvel Grigorian was relieved of his duties. Victor Soghomonian, the presidential press secretary, told RFE/RL that the reason for the move is “obvious” but declined to elaborate. Grigorian rose to prominence during the 1992-1994 war when he organized and commanded Armenian volunteer units that successfully fought Azerbaijani forces in Karabakh. His status of a war hero and close ties with Vazgen Sargsyan, the late founder of the Armenian army widely revered by the veterans, enabled the former truck driver to build a substantial political and economic clout in the following years. He has since held sway in the southern town of Echmiadzin and nearby villages. Meanwhile, three dozen arrested opposition leaders and activists began a collective hunger strike on Wednesday to demand their release from jail and an end to what they see as government repressions against supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.
According to Ter-Petrosian’s office, most of them will end the protest on Thursday and but will refuse food “indefinitely” if the authorities fail to meet their deman’s by April 9. Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian is scheduled to be sworn in as Armenia’s next president on that day.