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Armenian Ruling Party Won't Censure Governor For Alleged Attack

Surik Khachatrian (right) had been accused of assaulting businesswoman Silva Hambardzumian (left)
Surik Khachatrian (right) had been accused of assaulting businesswoman Silva Hambardzumian (left)
YEREVAN -- Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian's Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) says it will not take disciplinary action against or criticize a controversial governor accused of assaulting a woman, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports.

Eduard Sharmazanov, the chief HHK spokesman and a deputy parliament speaker, pointed out on December 19 that law-enforcement authorities' had concluded that Surik Khachatrian's actions did not break the law.

The Special Investigative Service (SIS) said last week that Khachatrian, who runs the southeastern Syunik Province, did hit businesswoman Silva Hambardzumian at a Yerevan hotel on November 14, just days after she accused him of business-related fraud.

But the SIS said Khachatrian will not be prosecuted on "beating" charges because he did not injure Hambardzumian.

Many government critics condemned the SIS stance, portraying it as proof of the impunity enjoyed by individuals close to Armenia's political leadership.

One December 14, the opposition Heritage party demanded that the authorities sack Khachatrian or at least make an appropriate "political evaluation" of his actions.

"If there was no crime, what political evaluation should we make?" Sharmazanov told journalists, reacting to the Heritage demand.

Pressed by an RFE/RL correspondent to comment on the legitimacy of a senior state official's recourse to violence, the deputy speaker said: "In general, we have a negative attitude to all abnormal phenomena. And on that issue I have nothing to add."

Khachatrian, better known by his nickname "Liska," is notorious for his reportedly violent conduct in Syunik.

He has been accused of attacking local business rivals as well as government critics, including a Syunik newspaper editor whose car was set on fire in 2005.

Khachatrian has always denied involvement in such incidents and denounced opposition politicians and pro-opposition media for labeling him a crime figure.

Vazgen Manukian, a former opposition leader who now heads Sarkisian's advisory Public Council, referred to him as an "uneducated criminal" in 2007.

Human rights campaigners and opposition politicians say he will not be punished for the latest incident because of forthcoming parliamentary elections and his ability to strongly influence their results in Syunik.

The official results of the last presidential and parliamentary elections, marred by fraud allegations, showed Sarkisian and his party doing better in Syunik than in any other part of the country.

Read more in Armenian here