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Armenian Ruling Party Denies 'Witch-Hunt' Against Coalition Partner

The leader of Armenia's opposition National Congress party, Levon Ter-Petrossian (left) has expressed a willingness to cooperate with Prosperous Armenia party leader Gagik Tsarukian (right), which is currently part of the ruling coalition.
YEREVAN -- Armenia's main ruling party has dismissed speculation about a "witch-hunt" against its junior partner in the three-party governing coalition after a serious of arrests and an alleged shooting linked to politics, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Some members of the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) spoke last week of possible retribution over allegedly breaking ranks after a series of recent arrests of its supporters on drug-related charges.

Despite suspecting a pattern behind the arrests, the BHK spokesman conspicuously stopped short of "jumping to conclusions," saying the party would discuss the developments and issue a relevant statement after the return of its leader, Gagik Tsarukian, who has been vacationing abroad for almost two weeks.

Nor did the BHK immediately react to an alleged shooting incident near the house of one of its members of parliament on December 1.

Media reports quoted some residents of the village of Janfida in the central Armavir Province as saying they heard several shots in the village not far from where deputy Rustam Gasparian lives.

The mayor of Janfida, Edik Manukian, and other local residents confirmed to RFE/RL on December 2 that some gunshots were heard in the village the previous day. But the police have thus far been unable to find any conclusive evidence of shooting at the scene, while Gasparian himself is said to be outside Armenia.

Political observers, meanwhile, regard the reported arrests and the unconfirmed shooting incident as some sort of "political pressure" on the BHK, which is said to be on increasingly competitive terms with President Serzh Sarkisian's ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) ahead of parliamentary elections due in May 2012.

Speculation about possible rifts between the two coalition partners intensified after Levon Ter-Petrossian, the leader of the main opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), expressed his readiness last week to cooperate with the BHK if it leaves the ruling coalition and challenges Sarkisian.

The BHK leader has so far been noncommittal over the proposal, while other senior members of the party have given no indication that a withdrawal from the coalition with the HHK and the other junior partner, the Rule of Law Party, was in its plans.

Nonetheless, senior BHK lawmaker Naira Zohrabian issued a statement earlier this week warning against an inquisition-style "witch-hunt" against the party. However, she stopped short of explicitly blaming the HHK for the incidents.

Drug Busts Were 'Routine Operations'

Talking to RFE/RL on December 5, HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov ruled out any "witch-hunt’ ostensibly ordered by the political leadership.

"The political authorities of Armenia are doing everything to ensure that the principle of the separation of powers that is enshrined in the country's constitution is respected," he said. "I don't think it requires any political assessment as it is up to the judicial power and the law-enforcement system to see to these matters."

Sharmazanov emphasized that the HHK holds that no one -- regardless of their party affiliations or kinship -- must go unpunished for transgressing legal limits. "In our country the policies of President Serzh Sarkisian are such that no one must consider themselves above the law," he said.

HHK deputy head Razmik Zohrabian also ruled out any unusual pattern in the actions of the police. He, too, denied the existence of any differences between the HHK and its coalition partner.

"There is no political persecution against the BHK," he said, suggesting that the party is not responsible for the drug addictions of its separate members.

In an interview with RFE/RL on December 1, Armenian Police Chief Vladimir Gasparian also ruled out his agency's meddling in politics, suggesting that the arrests in question were part of a routine police operation that simply happened to bust some members or supporters of a political party.