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Armenian Government Makes Concession To Opposition

Armenia's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, is willing to work with both government and opposition representatives to resolve differences.
Armenia's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, is willing to work with both government and opposition representatives to resolve differences.
YEREVAN -- Yerevan officials have formally allowed the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) to hold a rally in a key Yerevan square on April 29, thereby fulfilling another opposition demand, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Reversing its own decision announced earlier this month, the Yerevan municipality said on April 26 that it has accepted the HAK's written application to stage a demonstration in Liberty Square.

City officials had previously rejected numerous such applications filed since the March 2008 break-up of antigovernment protests staged there by HAK leader and former President Levon Ter-Petrossian. The HAK defied the ban and rallied supporters in the square on March 17 and April 8.

As recently as April 13, the city administration refused to allow Ter-Petrossian's bloc to hold the next rally in the same location on the grounds that the city had already planned to organize a "cultural event" there on the same day.

The Yerevan Mayor's Office said April 26 that the cultural event has been cancelled. The announcement came four days after President Serzh Sarkisian ordered law-enforcement authorities to conduct a "more meticulous" investigation of the March 2008 violence that left 10 people dead.

Such a probe as well as opposition access to Liberty Square are among the three main demands voiced by Ter-Petrossian. He has also demanded that the authorities free by April 28 his loyalists who are still in prison, or else face a new opposition push for power.

"One of those demands was met a few days ago," HAK coordinator, Levon Zurabian, told RFE/RL. "That was the official assurance on the readiness to solve the 10 killings committed on March 1 [2008]."

"Our second demand was an authorized status for our rallies in Liberty Square," he said, adding that it has been met as well.

"We will gather in Liberty Square on April 28 and together with the people...we will decide how to evaluate the government steps and what we should do," continued Zurabian. He said the HAK will be ready to start dialogue with the Sarkisian administration if the latter also frees all "political prisoners."

Armenia's human rights ombudsman, Karen Andreasian, offered on April 25 to mediate in such a dialogue. The offer was questioned by senior members of Sarkisian's Republican Party and rejected by the HAK.

Still, Andreasian insisted on April 26 that he is undaunted by this reaction and will go ahead with offering his services to both rival camps in writing. He said his initiative will put to the test their stated commitment to address the lingering fallout from the 2008 unrest.

"We just need to start from little things: identify the parties, their representatives, try to arrange their first meeting, have them sit at the same table," Andreasian said at a news conference. "That would be a big step in the eyes of the public and all of us."