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Armenian Government, Opposition Set For Landmark Talks

ltpRFE/RL -- In what appears to be another concession to the Armenian National Congress (HAK), President Serzh Sarkisian and his three-party governing coalition have formed an ad hoc team tasked with holding talks with the opposition alliance. Sarkisian’s spokesman Armen Arzumanian told News.am on Saturday that the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its two junior coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia (BHK) and Orinats Yerkir parties, will each appoint two members of the “working group.”“The first working discussion [with the HAK] could be organized already in the next ten days,” Arzumanian said.

 

The potentially significant development is part of an unfolding dialogue between Armenia’s political leadership and largest opposition force, which was made possible by a series of concessions made by Sarkisian in April and May. Those included the release of all HAK loyalists remaining in prison.The two sides have still not held any face-to-face meetings on ways of easing political tensions in Armenia. The HAK insists that the dialogue should take the form of formal negotiations  between special delegations formed for that purpose. Sarkisian and the HHK rejected this format until recently.

But in a June 17 statement, the president said that the two rival sides could discuss pressing issues facing Armenia “through specially designated individuals.” He said representatives of the HHK, the BHK and Orinats Yerkir could “sit down at the negotiation table” with an HAK delegation set up in early June.Arzumanian cited this statement as he made the announcement on Saturday. The presidential press secretary also said HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian effectively accepted Sarkisian’s proposals at his last rally held on June 30.Speaking at the rally, Ter-Petrosian assured thousands of supporters that Sarkisian will soon agree to the format of the dialogue favored by the HAK.

The HAK on Monday declined to comment on Arzumanian’s announcement. “We still haven’t seen any official decision, decree or directive on the delegation formed by the authorities for the dialogue,” argued Arman Musinian, a spokesman for the opposition bloc.The ruling HHK will be represented in the “working group” by Davit Harutiunian and Gagik Minasian, the chairmen of the Armenian parliament committees on legal affairs and economic policy respectively.

The BHK also appointed two senior lawmakers to the group. One of them, Naira Zohrabian, described the dialogue as an important milestone in the “formation of a new political culture of mutual tolerance” in the country.According to Minasian, the governing coalition has yet to come up with its preferred agenda of the upcoming discussions with HAK representatives. “The first meeting will clear up many things,” Minasian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “Statements will be made and the agenda will be determined.”

The HAK wants the dialogue to center on the holding of fresh national elections, its key demand. Ter-Petrosian said on June 30 that his political force will campaign for Sarkisian’s immediate resignation if that demand is not met. One of his close associates, Levon Zurabian, warned that this campaign would involve nonstop street protests.Sarkisian and other coalition leaders have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of snap polls. They say that the next parliamentary and presidential elections will be held as planned in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

 

Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. Original article: http://bit.ly/nCAmf5

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