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Armenia's Ex-President Kocharian Taken Into Custody Over 2008 Crackdown


Kocharian Calls Criminal Case Against Him 'Vendetta'
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WATCH: Kocharian Calls Criminal Case Against Him 'Vendetta'

YEREVAN -- Former President Robert Kocharian has been taken into custody by Armenian authorities after being charged in connection with the deadly crackdown on opposition protests following the disputed presidential election in 2008.

A Yerevan district court late on July 27 ruled that the Special Investigative Service (SIS) could hold Kocharian pending investigation into the crackdown that left 10 people dead, including two police officers.

The arrest comes as the government of new Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, a longtime anticorruption campaigner, has stepped up legal action against officials linked to the previous government.

Kocharian has denied charges of “overthrowing Armenia's constitutional order," calling them politically motivated, and his lawyers say he will appeal the pretrial detention ruling.

The lawyers, Ruben Sahakian and Aram Orbelian, declined further comment and said a news conference would be held in Yerevan on July 28.

The case dates back to late February and early March 2008 in the wake of a disputed election to determine Kocharian’s successor.

Kocharian’s ally, Serzh Sarkisian, was declared the winner, angering the opposition and setting off 10 days of nonstop protests that led to a crackdown on March 1 in which 10 people, including two police officers, were killed.

Kocharian is accused of illegally ordering the violent dispersal of protesters.

Kocharian said the postelection crackdown was necessary to prevent an illegal takeover of the government by another former president, Levon Ter-Petrosian.

In March, Nikol Pashinian, then an opposition figure in parliament, asked prosecutors to subpoena Kocharian for questioning over his order to use lethal force to suppress the protests.

Pashinian, who in 2010 was tried and convicted as one of the protest organizers, argued that, in particular, Kocharian should explain where he got information about gunshots allegedly fired at security forces by the demonstrators, which was a key reason cited by authorities in violently putting down the protests.

In a reply to a question from RFE/RL, the Prosecutor-General’s Office in March said Pashinian had no legal standing to demand Kocharian's testimony.

That all changed after Pashinian led a series of massive, nonviolent street protests in the capital, eventually toppling Sarkisian from power and leading to Pashinian’s own election on May 8 to the prime minister’s role in what was hailed by many as a "velvet revolution."

Pashinian, who for years spoke about what he said was widespread government corruption as an opposition member, immediately announced a crackdown on suspected wrongdoing after taking office.

Earlier on July 27, Yuri Khachaturov, the Armenian chief of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), was charged, like Kocharian, with overthrowing Armenia's constitutional order related to the 2008 crackdown.

Khachaturov, who was Armenia's deputy defense minister at the time, denied any wrongdoing in comments to reporters. Officials said he would be released after paying a bail of about $10,000.

The CSTO is a regional grouping that includes Russia, Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. Critics say Russian President Vladimir Putin sees it as a way to increase Moscow’s influence in former Soviet republics and to counter the European Union and NATO.

Earlier this month, the SIS issued an arrest warrant for retired General Mikael Harutiunian, who served as defense minister during the 2008 unrest. It charged Harutiunian with "illegally" using the armed forces against the protesters, saying that it amounted to an “overthrow of constitutional order.”

On July 9, a spokesman for Kocharian denounced the accusations leveled against the fugitive ex-general as a “mockery of the law.”

Pashinian's administration has also brought cases against several close relatives of Sarkisian’s family for a variety of alleged financial crimes, although Pashinian insisted that no particular family was being targeted.

Pashinian told RFE/RL on July 6 that the cases against Sarkisan family members were being pursued on their legal merits and were not "political" in nature.

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