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Armenian Opposition Leader Ends Hunger Strike

Armenian opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian ends his two-week hunger strike in Yerevan's Liberty Square on March 30.
Armenian opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian ends his two-week hunger strike in Yerevan's Liberty Square on March 30.
YEREVAN -- Armenian opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian has ended his 15-day hunger strike after appeals from supporters and what he called a positive change in the public mood, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Hovannisian declared the end of "the first act of the freedom fast" at a ceremony on March 30 attended by family and dozens of supporters of his Zharangutyun (Heritage) party in Yerevan's Liberty Square, where he held the solo protest action, in which he drank only water.

An Armenian priest led a prayer service and blessed a loaf of bread on the occasion.

"Mr. Hovannisian, I should ask you to tear off a symbolic chunk from this bread," the priest said. "May God help you."

Hovannisian, flanked by his wife Armine and older son Garin, obliged as the small crowd broke into applause.

The U.S.-born politician, who was Armenia's first foreign minister, began the hunger strike on March 15 to protest against the state of affairs in the country and the government's perceived failure to address problems.

Hovannisian has indicated that the holding of snap presidential and parliamentary elections is among "radical solutions" sought by him and his party.

Hovannisian acknowledged on Wednesday (March 30) that his high-profile action has not changed "the consciousness and policies of the current authorities." But he said he has achieved a change in "the public consciousness" that will make Armenians less tolerant of corruption and other government abuses.

"We saw that through the freedom of debates, solidarity visits [to Liberty Square], and singing and dancing, our people demand that power be returned to them," he said.

Hovannisian also attributed his decision to end the protest to appeals from "thousands" of supporters, doctors' health warnings, as well his daughter Shushi's 18th birthday today.

The Zharangutyun leader further spoke of the "very serious problems of the opposition" but made no direct mention of his and his party's relations with the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), which became even more strained during the hunger strike.

The HAK's top leader, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, controversially shunned Hovannisian as he led thousands of supporters into Liberty Square for a rally on March 17. Hovannisian deplored the snub and went so far as to question Ter-Petrossian's opposition credentials.

Ter-Petrossian and his supporters hit back, saying that Hovannisian never clearly formulated his demands to authorities. Some of them also openly charged that the hunger strike was a publicity stunt designed to deflect attention from the HAK's campaign of antigovernment protests and thus boost Hovannisian's popularity.