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By Ruzanna Khachatrian

Vazgen Manukian, the embattled founding leader of the National Democratic Union (AZhM), vowed on Monday to put down a revolt staged by most members of the party’s board who are pushing for closer ties with the authorities. Manukian, who has already been ousted as head of the AZhM’s tiny faction in the parliament, said he will fight to ensure that his rivals are expelled from the once largest opposition party of Armenia.

“I will never be with them,” he declared in an interview RFE/RL. “A clique has emerged in the AZhM which wants to seize its leadership by trying to stage a coup.”

The rebel activists, some of whom were Manukian’s longtime comrades-in-arms, control the party’s nine-member board but are in minority in its bigger and more powerful “council.” They on Saturday boycotted a crucial meeting of the 46-strong council, preventing it from making a quorum. The move left the outcome of the row highly uncertain.

Manukian and his allies need the support of several more members of the body to defeat the pro-government wing. They have urged local AZhM branches to expel seven rebel members of the board from their ranks.

Manukian, who headed Armenia’s first non-Communist government in 1990-91 and was close to winning the presidency in 1996, refused to give details of his further steps. He said his opponents are seeking to deepen their cooperation with the authorities in the hope of obtaining more material benefits.

Observers note that some of them hold senior posts in the ministry for state property headed by a veteran AZhM member, David Vartanian. Manukian refused to confirm or refute reports that Vartanian is behind the revolt which threatens to devastate his already weakened party. But he did dismiss speculation that President Robert Kocharian or Prime Minister Andranik Markarian may have had a hand in the AZhM turmoil.

The ex-premier, whose one-year spell at the head of the defense ministry coincided with the most spectacular Armenian military victories in Nagorno-Karabakh, attributed the AZhM’s woes to a crisis of identity which has gripped it since Kocharian’s rise to power. Its perceived soft line on the current authorities is thought to have alienated many supporters.

Manukian admitted the fact that the AZhM is no longer in opposition to Kocharian and the government, saying that it judges the authorities on concrete issues.
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