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Armenia Faces Council Of Europe Sanctions

Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian spoke of “unfavorable” developments for Armenia on Wednesday after a crucial meeting of a body monitoring the Armenian government’s compliance with its membership obligations to the Council of Europe.

The Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) met in Paris earlier in the day to decide whether to recommend the Strasbourg-based assembly to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members at its January session. The committee issued no statements as of late evening.

The PACE has repeatedly threatened to impose such sanctions if the authorities Yerevan fail to comply with its two resolutions on Armenia. The resolutions, adopted in April and June demanded, the immediate release of supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested on “seemingly artificial or politically motivated charges.”

“They made some proposals not favorable for Armenia,” Nalbandian told journalists, commenting on the results of the Paris meeting. He did not specify those proposals, saying only that the Armenian government can still prevent their approval by the PACE.

“I must say that that is an ongoing process,” said Nalbandian. “The issue will be put to the Parliament Assembly vote in January. Before that the committee’s rapporteurs, Messrs. [John] Prescott and [Georges] Colombier will visit Armenia. Perhaps there will be developments in January that will allow for a revision of that proposal.”

Earlier on Wednesday, a leading member of Ter-Petrosian’s Armenian National Congress (HAK), urged PACE to sanction the Armenian authorities for their failure to free dozens of arrested opposition members.

“Political sanctions must be imposed on the Armenian authorities,” said David Shahnazarian. “At least, the Armenian delegation [at the PACE] must be stripped of its voting rights because that delegation’s activities seriously damage Armenia’s national interests.”

Some 70 Ter-Petrosian loyalists remain in jail on charges stemming from the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between opposition protesters and security forces. The most prominent of them will go on trial this Friday.

“I am convinced that the [Monitoring Committee’s] assessment won’t be good for the Republic of Armenia because the Armenian authorities have not honored their PACE commitments,” said another HAK figure, Vahagn Khachatrian.

Nalbandian again insisted, however, that Armenia’s government has mostly complied with the PACE resolutions and does not deserve to be sanctioned. The government denies the existence of political prisoners in the country.

Still, some government loyalists admit that more needs to be done to address the Council of Europe concerns about the post-election crackdown on the Armenian opposition. “Some work has been done, including towards complying with the two [PACE] resolutions,” said Artsvik Minasian, a parliament deputy from the pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation. “Is that work complete? Of course not. There is still some unfinished business.”