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Robert Kocharian was president from 1998 to 2008.
YEREVAN -- A pro-opposition Armenian newspaper has offered to settle a libel lawsuit filed by former President Robert Kocharian's family over reports implicating it in large-scale business activities, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

In a series of articles published in September, the daily "Zhamanak" claimed that Kocharian was involved in lucrative imports of pharmaceuticals and owns a chain of drugstores through his wife, Bella.

Citing an unnamed source, it also alleged that Kocharian's eldest son, Sedrak, had purchased a diamond mine in India.

The former president's spokesman and legal counsel said Kocharian and his family members dismissed the reports as libelous. They sued the paper for defamation of character, demanding 6 million drams ($16,700) in compensatory damages.

A "Zhamanak" lawyer, Nikolay Baghdasarian, told a Yerevan court on February 25 that the paper was ready to run a retraction prepared by the plaintiff.

"If they present a reasonable text that doesn't violate the rights of third parties, we will be ready to print it," Baghdasarian said.

The court gave the Kocharian family 12 days to consider the settlement offer.

A spokesman for the ex-president, Victor Soghomonian, told RFE/RL that the family had not yet made a decision on the offer.

The newspaper has already published retractions, sent by the Kocharian family in October, along with its own "explanatory" comments attached to them. It says the family was angered by the background notes.

Baghdasarian said he therefore thought the Kocharian family was unlikely to settle the suit. "We just want to prove that they don't want to refute anything and are pursuing other goals," he told RFE/RL.

Arman Babajanian, the "Zhamanak" editor who was jailed for draft evasion during Kocharian's rule and spent more than three years in prison, earlier denounced the legal action as an "attack on free speech," and that the former president wanted to bankrupt his publication with such lawsuits.

Kocharian was president from 1998 to 2008.
Police officer Vadim Boiko (left) during an opposition protest in St. Petersburg in July
ST. PETERSBURG -- A St. Petersburg court has postponed hearings in the case of alleged police abuse by the so-called "Pearl Ensign," RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The trial was moved to March 16 because the defendant, former policeman Vadim Boiko, was unable to attend the hearing. Boiko was hospitalized on February 21 for unclear reasons.

Boiko acquired the nickname "Pearl Ensign" after a video of police breaking up a protest on July 31 was posted online. It showed a police officer wearing a white-pearl bracelet insulting and beating demonstrators as well as dragging them by the hair. The officer was later identified as Boiko.

Sergei Cherkasov, a witness to the alleged abuse, said in court on February 25 he is afraid police will arrest him on any pretext to prevent him from testifying.

Boiko, who pleaded not guilty to the charge of abusing his authority as a police officer, could face 10 years in prison if found guilty. He was dismissed from his job and ordered not to leave St. Petersburg until the trial ends.

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