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Opposition Leader To Continue PACE Boycott

Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian said on Monday that he will continue to boycott sessions of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in protest against what he sees as its leniency towards the Armenian government.

Hovannisian, who is the only opposition member of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, demonstratively walked out of the Strasbourg-based assembly in June, condemning its failure to sanction the authorities in Yerevan for their failure to end their harsh post-election crackdown on the opposition. The leader of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party said he will not attend PACE sessions until “Armenia meets standards – its own and Europe’s – and Europe rises to the realization of its own values, rights and benchmarks.”

“I don’t think there are any grounds to change my tentative decision right now,” he told RFE/RL. “I really wish the Armenian authorities and the president leading them had given me reason to return to full service in Strasbourg.”

The U.S.-born politician insisted that the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian has failed to fully comply with the PACE’s April and June resolutions that demanded, among other things, the immediate release of all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” “Although on surface some demands have been satisfied, by and large the [June] resolution has not been complied with,” he said.

The PACE has threatened to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members if Yerevan fails to meet its demands by next January. Council of Europe officials are particularly concerned about the continuing imprisonment of some 70 supporters of former President Levon Ter-Petrosian arrested in the wake of last February’s presidential election.

The Council of Europe’s human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, strongly questioned the credibility of criminal accusations leveled against the most prominent of the opposition detainees during yet another visit to Yerevan last month. He at the same time praised the Armenian authorities for setting up a new, supposedly independent body tasked with investigating the March 1 clashes in Yerevan that left at least 10 people dead and more than 100 others seriously injured.

Hovannisian appeared skeptical about the new inquiry, saying that the authorities have failed to prosecute anyone in connection with the March 1 deaths. He seemed to imply that Ter-Petrosian is also responsible for the deadly unrest and lingering questions about the circumstances in which eight civilians and two interior troops lost their lives.

“The main actors on March 1 were the three presidents of Armenia,” said Hovannisian. “And as long as we don’t have depositions from the three presidents, their aides, bodyguards and generals given under oath, I don’t think the Armenian people can optimistically expect the disclosure of the full truth.”