YEREVAN -- The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) has suspended its ongoing dialogue with the authorities to protest the continuing detention of one of its activists arrested earlier this month, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.
The move comes three months after the opposition said the government had agreed to its preconditions for talks, including the release of jailed political opponents; the right to hold protests in the capital's main square; and a new investigation into the deaths of protesters who challenged the country's last presidential election as rigged.
In a statement read out at a news conference in Yerevan on August 26, the HAK accused Armenia's governing coalition of reneging on what it said was a pledge to ensure the quick release of the young activist, Tigran Arakelian.
"The existence of political prisoners is making the continuation of the dialogue impossible," the bloc said, adding that it is ready to resume talks if Arakelian is set free.
The news conference was convened shortly after HAK representatives failed to show up for a meeting this morning.
The chief coalition negotiator, Davit Harutiunian, deplored the no-show. "This doesn't mean that the HAK is dictating conditions, this means that the HAK lacks the political will to properly continue this process," he told journalists.
Harutiunian also complained that the HAK representatives led by Levon Zurabian did not inform his negotiating team of their decision not to attend the planned seventh round of talks.
According to Zurabian, the decision was taken at the last minute because the HAK still hoped that Arakelian would be released from pretrial detention.
Arakelian was one of seven members of the HAK's youth wing who were arrested on August 9 after clashing with police in disputed circumstances in central Yerevan. He is facing up to 10 years in prison on charges of assaulting police officers.
The six other youths are facing less serious accusations. They have been set free pending investigation.
Speaking after the last meeting with Harutiunian's delegation on August 23, Zurabian expressed confidence that Arakelian will be freed very soon. He implied that his five-member delegation received corresponding assurances from the coalition negotiators.
Harutiunian did not confirm that, though, saying only that the Armenian police and courts will "act in a non-discriminatory manner" with regard to Arakelian.
HAK Needs 'Much More Mutual Trust'
Nevertheless, the HAK statement insisted that Arakelian remains in jail "contrary to mutual understandings and assurances we were given." It claimed that the authorities are using his arrest as a "pressure lever for extracting political concessions from the Congress."
"The authorities are demonstrating that they are not prepared to build relations on the basis of trust and are calling into question any possibility of agreement on internal political issues that require much more mutual trust and relate to the fate of the state and the people," the statement said.
The HAK further dismissed as a "fabrication" police claims that Arakelian and his companions verbally and physically abused a police patrol.
Even before suspending the dialogue, the bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian warned that it will launch a campaign of "civil disobedience" if the authorities finally refuse to call early presidential and parliamentary elections before October.
Speaking at the news conference on August 26, Zurabian reaffirmed that warning, but declined to give any specific dates for the launch of a new opposition offensive. "That gives us some flexibility as to what day in September that will be done," he said. "It also gives the authorities flexibility. So we still have time. They still have time."
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