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By Anush Dashtents

Vano Siradeghian, Armenia’s fugitive former interior minister, is hoping to win back the parliament seat which he lost last November at the behest of the authorities. Siradeghian’s allies have filed for his registration as a candidate in an upcoming by-election in the constituency from which he was elected to the parliament in May 1999.

Siradeghian has been on the run from prosecution on murder charges for almost two years. He is thought to have fled Armenia shortly before fellow legislators lifted his immunity from arrest. Nineteen months later they voted to strip the once powerful police chief of his parliamentary mandate, citing his failure to attend sessions of the National Assembly.

The move led the Central Election Commission (CEC) to call a pre-term election in the single-mandate constituency located in Siradeghian’s native Noyemberian region bordering Georgia and Azerbaijan. The polls are scheduled for May 19.

On March 18, the governing board of Siradeghian’s party, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), decided to put forward his candidacy, apparently after getting his formal consent. HHSh sources told RFE/RL that activists of the former ruling party have already submitted all the documents required for his formal registration.

Those include interior ministry statements certifying that Siradeghian is a citizen of Armenia who has resided in the country for the last five years. The ministry issued them after repeated delays, sources said.

Svetlana Beglarian, a spokeswoman for the provincial election commission which is administering the Noyemberian by-election, told RFE/RL on Monday that Siradeghian is one of four persons who want to join the race. The decisions to approve or reject their applications will be made by April 14, she said.

HHSh leaders fear that lack of information about Siradeghian’s whereabouts since April 2000 could be considered by the commission as sufficient grounds for denying him registration. They claim that they do not know where the ex-minister currently lives, saying that he faxed his written agreement to stand in the election from an unknown location.

Siradeghian went on trial in September 1999 on charges of ordering a string of contract killings while in power from 1992-96. State prosecutors claim that he set up a death squad in 1992 to eliminate and terrorize opponents of the regime. In July 2000, two members of the alleged gang were sentenced to death, while seven others got jail terms ranging from 4 to 11 years.

A month later, eleven former officers of Armenian interior troops were given lengthy sentences after a Yerevan court convicted them of murdering two men in 1995. The prosecutors say the killings were ordered by Siradeghian.

The HHSh and Siradeghian have denied the charges as unsubstantiated and politically motivated.
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