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Coup Charge Dropped In Armenian Opposition Trial

Former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian
YEREVAN (Reuters) -- Prosecutors in the trial of seven Armenian opposition figures have dropped the main charge of trying to overthrow the government during deadly unrest last year.

Ten people, including two police officers, died when police and protesters clashed in March 2008 during demonstrations against the results of an election in the former Soviet republic, won by current President Serzh Sarkisian.

The charge of "usurpation of state power" was removed after authorities amended the country's legal code, which European rights bodies warned was poorly defined and open to abuse.

The seven remain on trial accused of organizing mass disorder, arson, and pogroms, and face four to 10 years in jail if convicted. Responsibility for the killings was also dropped from the charge sheet.

The seven include former Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanian, who was campaign chief for opposition presidential challenger Levon Ter-Petrosian.

More than 100 people were arrested during a state of emergency imposed after the violence, causing concern among rights groups.

New York-based Human Rights Watch accused Armenia in February of conducting "politically motivated" trials while ignoring evidence of excessive use of force by police and ill-treatment of detainees.