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Armenian Leader Initiates Another General Amnesty

Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian
President Serzh Sarkisian has formally asked the Armenian parliament to declare a general amnesty, a move which is expected to lead to the release of all Armenian opposition members remaining in prison, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

In a short statement issued on May 20, Sarkisian's office said the amnesty would be dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Armenia's independence, which will be celebrated in September. It did not specify which prisoners will be eligible for early release.

Sources told RFE/RL that under a relevant bill drafted by Sarkisian's staff, some 400 convicts will be freed while about 2,000 others will have their prison sentences shortened. Other details of the proposed amnesty are not yet known.

Victor Dallakian, an independent parliament deputy thought to be familiar with the president's actions, suggested that the amnesty will apply to all jailed opposition activists.

The parliament committee on legal affairs discussed the bill behind closed doors less than an hour after parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian received it from the presidential administration.

Abrahamian told RFE/RL that it will be debated by the National Assembly early next week.

"I think this step once again shows that the state is headed by an individual who carries state and national values and who is taking steps to spread solidarity and unity in the country," said Eduard Sharmazanov, a senior lawmaker and spokesman for Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia.

The National Assembly, which is dominated by government loyalists, already declared an amnesty two years ago, resulting in the release of hundreds of prisoners.

Among them were several dozen allies and supporters of opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian who were controversially imprisoned following postelection unrest in 2008.

Six other opposition figures are still behind bars. Sarkisian hinted at their impending release as he made a number of concessions to Ter-Petrossian's Armenian National Congress (HAK) late last month.

Those concessions included the lifting of a de facto government ban on opposition rallies in a key Yerevan square and a renewed investigation into the deadly clashes in March 2008 between security forces and Ter-Petrossian supporters demanding the rerun of a disputed presidential election.

Speaking at an HAK rally later in April, Ter-Petrossian declared that the Sarkisian administration has essentially met his three main preconditions for the start of a "dialogue" with his opposition alliance.

He predicted that all remaining "political prisoners" will be set free before the next HAK protest scheduled for May 31.

Ter-Petrossian also made clear that the HAK will avoid another potentially violent standoff with the authorities.

The HAK, which is Armenia's leading opposition force, launched a fresh campaign of antigovernment street protests in February, which were clearly inspired by popular uprisings in several Arab states.

Ter-Petrossian and his associates warned Sarkisian to call fresh national elections or face a similar revolt.