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By Margarit Yesayan

The People’s Party of Armenian (HZhK) stood on the brink of a major rift on Saturday as one of its leading members, parliament speaker Armen Khachatrian, signalled his intention to leave the HZhK, citing serious disagreements with its leadership. Khachatrian said HZhK chairman Stepan Demirchian is acting against the beliefs of his late father and the center-left party’s founder, Karen Demirchian, with his increasingly anti-government stance.

The move followed the decision late Friday by the party’s political council to demand the ouster of the speaker and his deputy Gagik Aslanian from the HZhK board, the supreme decision-making body. It came amid growing differences inside one of Armenia’s most popular political organizations over how to deal with the authorities.

Khachatrian and several other members of the parliament favor continued cooperation with President Robert Kocharian and Prime Minister Andranik Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK), with which the HZhK forms the Miasnutyun alliance. They have recently broke ranks to vote for several key government initiatives debated by the National Assembly.

“The current leadership of the People’s Party of Armenia has diverged from the line mapped out by Karen Demirchian,” the speaker told RFE/RL. “The delusion of some of the party leaders is so evident that there will definitely emerge a new wing or a new structure that will unite individuals who have been with Karen Demirchian and who were founding members of this party.”

The HZhK chairman, who is increasingly at odds with the authorities, declined to comment on Saturday. Simmering tensions between his party and the authorities were stoked last month by the release of several defendants in the ongoing trial on the 1999 parliament shootings. The late Demirchian was among eight senior officials gunned down in the attack. Stepan Demirchian condemned the release of the suspects as “state sponsorship of terrorism.”
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