Friday, 25 April 2008

Armenian News

New Armenian Cabinet Formed
By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian

President Serzh Sarkisian completed the formation of his coalition
government on Monday with the appointment of five more ministers,
among them an influential figure close to his predecessor Robert

Under Armenia's constitution, the new government has to submit its
policy program to parliament for a vote of confidence within the next
20 days. Such a vote is a mere formality as the National Assembly is
overwhelmingly controlled by Sarkisian's Republican Party (HHK) and
three other parties that signed a power-sharing with him last month.

Eleven of the 17 cabinet ministers named by Sarkisian since his April
9 inauguration occupied the same positions in the previous government
that stepped down following last February's presidential election.
The most prominent of the other ministers is Armen Gevorgian, the
longtime head of the presidential administration and Kocharian's
confidante. In an indication of Kocharian's continuing influence on
government affairs, Gevorgian, 34, was appointed as deputy prime
minister and minister for local government in place of another
influential figure, Hovik Abrahamian. Abrahamian, who was Sarkisian's
election campaign manager, will now serve as the chief of the new
president's staff.

The other newcomers are Defense Minister Seyran Ohanian, Foreign
Minister Eduard Nalbandian, Finance Minister Tigran Davtian,
Transport and Communications Minister Gurgen Sargsian and Minister
for Emergency Situations Mher Shahgeldian. Sargsian and Shahgeldian
were picked because of their affiliation with the Orinats Yerkir
Party of Artur Baghdasarian, who finished third in the disputed

The HHK's two other coalition partners, the Prosperous Armenia Party
(BHK) and the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun),
each retained their three ministerial portfolios. Dashnaktsutyun
members, in particular, will continue to run the ministries of social
affairs, education and agriculture.

A Dashnaktsutyun leader, Hrant Markarian, told RFE/RL earlier this
month that the nationalist party is seeking to increase its presence
in the government with `more influential positions' relating to
defense, law-enforcement or finances. The party harbored similar
hopes in the run-up to the May 2007 parliamentary elections. However,
they were dashed by the HHK's landslide victory in the polls.

Dashnaktsutyun subsequently decided to challenge Sarkisian in the
presidential ballot. Its candidate, Vahan Hovannisian, strongly
criticized government policies during the election campaign and
called for sweeping personnel changes in the highest echelons of power.

Hovannisian on Monday downplayed the apparent lack of such changes in
the cabinet formed by Sarkisian. `The ministers will work the way the
president and the prime minister will instruct them to,' he told RFE/
RL. `If new conditions of work are set for them, it will be clear
before the end of this year who is really capable of doing a good
job, not being corrupt and being in real control of their spheres.'

Hovannisian said in that regard he has high expectations from the new
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian (no relation to Serzh). `I know him
as a specialist of the highest level, and as prime minister, he will
manage to implement programs that will enable us to move forward,' he

Speaking to university students in Yerevan on March 12, President
Sarkisian hinted that the new government will be radically different
from the previous one. `There will be changes which many people do
not expect,' he said. Few of those changes proved unexpected, though.

Victor Dallakian, an independent parliamentarian close to some HHK
leaders, claimed that Sarkisian planned a more radical government
shake-up but eventually had to keep many unpopular Kocharian
loyalists in the government because of the former president's
decisive role in the violent suppression of post-election opposition

`This is hardly the government Serzh Sarkisian dreamed about,'
Dallakian told RFE/RL. `I wish the government all the best, but don't
think it will achieve miracles.' `I think the president should
gradually distance himself from Kocharian's cadres,' he said.

But Samvel Nikoyan, a senior HHK lawmaker, dismissed Dallakian's
claims. `Let us not forget that many ministers worked with
[Sarkisian] when he was prime minister,' he said. `He knows their
potential. There is also a need to maintain continuity in the
government's program and activities.'


Thousands Rally In Yerevan With Rare Government Consent
By Astghik Bedevian

In what was the first opposition rally authorized by the Armenian
government in two months, thousands of people assembled in Yerevan at
the weekend to voice support for former President Levon Ter-Petrosian
and his imprisoned loyalists.

It was also the largest gathering held since the deadly March 1
clashes between security forces and Ter-Petrosian supporters and the
resulting declaration of a 20-day state of emergency in the Armenian
capital. The authorities effectively banned anti-government
demonstrations after the end of emergency rule with legal amendments
strongly criticized by the West.

The Yerevan municipality unexpectedly sanctioned Saturday's protest
but made sure that it is held not in Liberty Square, the scene of Ter-
Petrosian's massive post-election demonstrations, but a small public
located elsewhere in the city center.

The rally proceeded peacefully, with participants chanting `Levon!'
and `Freedom!' and demanding the release of more than 100 opposition
activists arrested as part of the ongoing government crackdown on the
opposition. Ter-Petrosian, who was President Serzh Sarkisian's main
election challenger, did not join the protest officially organized by
a pro-opposition women's group. But his wife Lyudmila was in attendance.

Most of the speakers were the wives of some of the jailed
oppositionists. `We will rally here, on Northern Avenue and Liberty
Square until our husbands, brothers, fathers, sons and friends are
freed, until our country is freed,' said Melissa Brown, the wife of
Aleksandr Arzumanian, Ter-Petrosian's election campaign chief accused
of plotting a coup d'etat and organizing `mass riots.'

The calls were echoed by Suren Sureniants, a senior member of the
opposition Hanrapetutyun (Republic) party who was arrested on
February 25 and released from jail pending trial last week. `I want
all of us to demand freedom for our comrades,' Sureniants said in his

Also addressing the boisterous crowd was the wife of Nikol Pashinian,
an outspoken newspaper editor and Ter-Petrosian associate who has
been in hiding since March 2. `I want to tell you on behalf of my
husband Nikol Pashinian that our struggle is continuing,' said Anna
Hakobian. `Serzh Sarkisian must understand that with [the use of
force on] March 1 not only did the authorities fail to intimidate the
people but actually took fear out of them.'

The rally came to an abrupt end after a senior police officer told
organizers that the two hours requested by them for the protest have
expired. The latter asked for an extra 30 minutes only to have
electricity powering their loudspeakers cut off moments later.


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