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PACE Official Faces More Opposition Criticism In Armenia

Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) meets with PACE co-rapporteur John Prescott in Yerevan on January 17.
Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (right) meets with PACE co-rapporteur John Prescott in Yerevan on January 17.
YEREVAN -- The Armenian National Congress (HAK) has joined other opposition groups in criticizing a Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) official monitoring the political situation in Armenia, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

John Prescott, PACE co-rapporteur on Armenia, was reported to have praised ongoing "democratic reforms" in the country in his meetings with President Serzh Sarkisian and other senior officials.

"In the co-rapporteur's words, positive changes are also obvious from the content of his meetings with Armenian politicians," Sarkisian's press office said in a statement.

But HAK coordinator Levon Zurabian said he and other senior members of the opposition alliance told Prescott on January 17 that his evaluation of domestic political developments is "not adequate."

"[The PACE rapporteurs] come here and supposedly try to verify what has been done towards implementing one or another insignificant reform," Zurabian told RFE/RL. "That has absolutely nothing to do with real democratic processes."

Prescott faced harsher criticism from leaders of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun) and the Heritage party after separate meetings held with them earlier on January 16. They said the British parliamentarian rudely dismissed their concerns about the freedom and fairness of the upcoming parliamentary elections and the overall political situation.

A Dashnaktsutyun leader even suggested that Prescott is secretly collaborating with Armenian authorities.

Prescott arrived in Yerevan to assess the authorities' compliance with a PACE resolution adopted in October. It urged them to hold "genuinely democratic parliamentary elections" and to carry out other political reforms.

The resolution said Sarkisian's administration has largely overcome the political fallout from the 2008 postelection violence in Yerevan. The HAK and Heritage strongly criticized this conclusion, saying the authorities have failed to properly investigate the deaths of 10 people during the unrest.

Prescott heard similar complaints from relatives of opposition protesters killed in the March 1-2, 2008, clashes with security forces.

"He didn't let us raise any issue, which made us angry," said Sarkis Kloyan, whose son Gor was shot to death that night. "He told us that he is not an investigator."

Prescott has declined to be interviewed on the subject by RFE/RL.

Kloyan told RFE/RL the relatives also wondered why the PACE official declared "the chapter on the March 2008 events can finally be considered closed for the assembly. He skirted that question," he said.

Prescott discussed the official inquiry into the unrest with Prosecutor-General Aghvan Hovsepian and Karen Andreasian, the state human rights ombudsman, on January 17.

A statement issued by Andreasian's office said Prescott "positively assessed the process of democratic reforms in Armenia."

According to the Foreign Ministry, the PACE rapporteur made a similar statement at a meeting with Foreign Minister Eduard Nalbandian on January 16.

Prescott and Sarkisian discussed preparations for the May parliamentary elections later on January 17. Sarkisian was quoted by his press service as praising Prescott's personal contribution to Yerevan's "constructive relationship" with the PACE.

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