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Armenian Opposition Activists Attacked While Campaigning

YEREVAN -- More than a dozen young opposition activists were attacked and beaten by a group of men in downtown Yerevan on December 27 while campaigning for jailed opposition leader Nikol Pashinian, who is running for a parliament seat, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) said members of its youth wing Hima (Now) were verbally and physically attacked as they urged residents of a central Yerevan constituency to vote for Pashinian in the January 10 by-election to the National Assembly.

It accused the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) of organizing the "bandit assault."

According to Vladimir Karapetian, an HAK spokesman who was hit in the face during the attack, five of the activists were seriously injured and taken to a hospital. Among them was Vahagn Gevorgian, son of Hayk Gevorgian, an editor at Pashinian's daily newspaper "Haykakan Zhamanak."

Vahagn Gevorgian told RFE/RL that the violence erupted after some 25 young men warned Hima activists against entering an apartment building and handing out campaign material. But he said "their goal was not to keep us from entering apartment buildings because they were armed with metal bars and other objects to hit us."

In a statement issued on December 28, the HAK charged that the violence was orchestrated by the ruling party and Yerevan’s HHK mayor, Gagik Beglarian, in particular.

Levon Zurabian, a leading member of the opposition alliance, said the HHK has mobilized its "vote rigging and bullying machine" to ensure a victory by Ara Simonian, Pashinian's main progovernment rival for the seat.

HHK chief spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov condemned the attack, saying: "Any violation of citizens' rights is inadmissible, whether they are an opposition politician, a progovernment politician, or not engaging in politics."

Pashinian is currently on trial for his role in the 2008 postelection demonstrations in Yerevan in which 10 people died. Prosecutors accuse him of fomenting violence and are seeking an eight-year jail sentence for him.