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Armenia: President Sacks PM, Defense Chief

The Armenian prime minister and defense minister were dismissed today for allegedly ignoring the country's economic problems. Our correspondent Emil Danielyan says the move follows months of uneasy relations between the head of state and the government and may be related to last fall's parliamentary shootings.

Yerevan, 2 May 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Armenian president Robert Kocharian has dismissed country's prime minister and defense minister.

In a statement broadcast by state television today, Kocharian said he signed a decree relieving Prime Minister Aram Sarkisian and Defense Minister Vagharshak Harutiunian of their duties to end what the president said was "disarray" in the Armenian leadership.

Kocharian accused Sarkisian and his entourage of engaging in "political games" instead of tackling the country's economic problems. Kocharian claimed his efforts to cooperate with the cabinet were thwarted by the prime minister, whose continued tenure, he said, would "shatter the pillars of [Armenian] statehood."

Kocharian also said the defense minister's activities threatened to destroy the armed forces. Kocharian said he had to intervene to prevent such a development.

Sarkisian spent today discussing the situation with his advisers. He did not immediately comment on the move.

The president and prime minister have been at odds over a number of issues since Sarkisian took office in November, just days after his older brother and predecessor Vazgen was gunned down in the Armenian parliament along with seven other officials.

Our correspondent says the main area of disagreement is how military prosecutors are handling the on-going criminal investigation into the October 27 parliament killings. Some say Kocharian may fear that he and his allies might be implicated in killings.

It is not yet clear how the Armenian parliament, dominated by Sarkisian's supporters, will react. The assembly has until now supported the 38-year-old prime minister in his periodic disputes with the president. Kocharian said that tomorrow he will begin consultations with the parliamentary majority on choosing a new prime minister.

Members of the Miasnutyun (Unity) faction, parliament's largest faction, told RFE/RL today that Kocharian had informed them yesterday of his plans and asked them to suggest possible replacements.

Under the Armenian constitution, the cabinet is appointed by the president but may be unseated by a parliamentary vote of no confidence. Still, the country's basic law allows the president to dissolve the legislature and call fresh elections practically at will.