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Armenian Government Resigns Following Premier's Death

By Emil Danielyan and Ruzanna Stepanian Andranik Markarian died on March 25 (epa) YEREVAN, March 26, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Armenia's entire Cabinet of Ministers tendered its resignation today as a result of the sudden death of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.

The mass resignation was swiftly accepted by President Robert Kocharian during an emergency government meeting chaired by the head of state.

The action was in keeping with Article 55 of the Armenian Constitution, which obligates the ruling cabinet to step down in the event that the post of prime minister becomes vacant. Markarian, 55, died suddenly of a heart attack at his home on March 25.

New Government On The Way

A statement issued by the government said that Kocharian instructed all ministers to continue to perform their duties "until the formation of a new government."

Under the recently amended constitution, the country's president should name a new prime minister, backed by the majority of parliament deputies, within 10 days. The appointment must follow consultations with leaders of the parliamentary majority. Kocharian held such consultations immediately after the cabinet session.

The most likely candidate to replace Markarian is influential Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the No. 2 figure in the HHK's leadership.

"Participants of the meeting stressed the importance of ensuring the continued regular and unfettered work of the executive authority," the president's office said, without elaborating. Kocharian assured the majority leaders that he will take "all necessary actions" required by the constitution, the office said.

The participants included top members of Markarian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), which has the largest faction in the National Assembly and is expected to demanded that the next prime minister be from the HHK. An HHK spokesman said today that the party would retain the post of prime minister.

The most likely candidate for the post is influential Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the No. 2 figure in the party's leadership. He was increasingly regarded as the governing party's real top leader even before Markarian's death.

A source in the presidential administration told RFE/RL that Kocharian has already decided to name Sarkisian prime minister. Kocharian's press service denied the information.

Sarkisian cancelled a planned visit to China and rushed back to Yerevan from Moscow late on March 25. He visited the HHK headquarters in the city center at around midnight and left it several minutes later, refusing to speak to journalists. It was unclear whether he discussed the question of who should succeed Markarian with other members of the party's governing board.

A Nation Mourns

Meanwhile, a special state commission tasked with organizing Markarian's funeral announced that he will be laid to rest in Yerevan's Komitas Pantheon on March 28. In a separate decree, Kocharian declared that date a day of national mourning.

"We have lost a statesman, a colleague, a friend who...headed the government for nearly seven years," Kocharian told his ministers. "And those seven years were the best years for our state."

Markarian came to power in 2000 during a politically tense period in Armenia following the October, 1999, armed attack on parliament that killed eight politicians, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsian.

"It is very heavy blow to the state, to the people and to the party, because for many years Andranik Markarian was one of the pillars, and when there were difficulties he was the key man who could bring closer very distant positions," Tigran Torosian, speaker of the Armenian parliament and a leading member of the HHK, told RFE/RL. "Thanks to his efforts, we were able to avoid various shocks."

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