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By Emil Danielyan

Prime Minister Andranik Markarian moved Friday to patch up a damaging scandal over the mysterious disappearance of the entire Thursday issue of a leading independent daily, announcing the sacking of a mid-level official at the state-run newspaper distribution agency.

Two close Markarian associates are widely suspected of secretly buying all 4,600 copies of “Aravot,” which contained a story accusing them of corruption, before they could reach the newsstands. The prime minister’s advisor, Gevorg Hakobian, and the former chief of staff, Hrach Abgarian, were alleged to have resorted to blackmail and other illegal practices to buy a popular resort complex in Tsaghkadzor, central Armenia.

But Markarian effectively shielded himself and his allies against the criticism, laying the blame on the Haymamul distribution agency. The government’s press office said the Haymamul sales manager, A. Arsenian, has been fired by his boss for committing “serious violations” in the distribution of “Aravot.” It stressed that the sacking followed Markarian’s pledge to “punish the guilty.”

The government did not specify what those violations were. The Haymamul manager, Arshaluys Manukian, assured RFE/RL Thursday that “Aravot” copies were available in the Yerevan kiosks. But no one, including the newspaper’s chief editor, could get a copy throughout the day. Many suspect that the paper’s entire print run did not even reach Haymamul.

Sources revealed to RFE/RL that President Robert Kocharian personally demanded explanations from the prime minister and that the latter denied any involvement in the incident strongly condemned by the local media.

Haymamul, notorious for its inefficiency, remains under state control despite repeated government promises to privatize it. Markarian was on Friday quoted by his press service as instructing the Haymamul management to “work out certain measures within a week aimed at better organizing the distribution and sale of newspapers, and preventing the noticed shortcomings and violations.”
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