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Armenian Government, Opposition To Hold More Talks

The Armenian National Congress (HAK) agreed to new talks after assurances that Davit Harutiunian, a senior pro-government parliamentarian seen at right in the July 18 meeting, represents President Serzh Sarkisian.
YEREVAN -- Representatives of Armenia's political leadership and leading opposition forces vowed to hold a second meeting on July 26 in their talks aimed at easing political tensions, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

The negotiating teams formed by the three-party ruling coalition and the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK) held their first talks on July 18.

The HAK agreed to continue the dialogue after receiving assurances that the coalition team headed by Davit Harutiunian, a senior pro-government parliamentarian, represents President Serzh Sarkisian.

Harutiunian and the five other members of his "working group" met on July 25 to discuss their negotiating strategy. They declined to give any details of the meeting.

Levon Zurabian, head of the HAK's five-member delegation, said the July 26 talks will mark the first "full-fledged negotiations" between the two rival camps. He insisted that HAK representatives will primarily push for the holding of fresh presidential and parliamentary elections.

Zurabian also reiterated that the opposition bloc led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian will end the dialogue if it produces no concrete results by the beginning of September.

"They have to ensure developments that can be presented to the people as a breakthrough that testifies to the seriousness of the authorities and their readiness to make concessions," he told RFE/RL.

Zurabian said the authorities should specifically demonstrate that "a legitimate government will be formed in the country as a result of preterm elections in the near future."

Sarkisian and senior members of his Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) have repeatedly ruled out the possibility of fresh elections. But Harutiunian said last week the government negotiators were ready to discuss the main HAK demand.

Aram Sarkisian (no relation to the president), the leader of a major opposition party affiliated with Ter-Petrossian's bloc, said that Serzh Sarkisian will eventually agree to call early elections. He noted the the recent government concessions to the HAK.

"I don't consider these processes to be the government's defeat," Aram Sarkisian told RFE/RL. "On the contrary, it's a victory for the government. The government is finally starting to realize that failure to do [agree to opposition demands] carries very big risks."

He added that "therefore, I am convinced that in order to avoid those risks the authorities will opt for fresh elections, both presidential and parliamentary ones."

Aram Sarkisian also claimed that the government's refusal to give in to the call for early elections would spark massive street protests in Yerevan. "The society has lost patience," he said. "It may not listen even to us this fall."

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