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By Ruzanna Khachatrian, Hrach Melkumian and Anush Dashtents

The Armenian opposition delayed on Tuesday collection of signatures in the parliament in support of impeachment proceedings against President Robert Kocharian.

Opposition leaders said they need one more day to drum up public support for the effort and gauge the mood among the parliament deputies, most of whom are thought to be loyal to the head of state.

The opposition needs to secure the backing of at least 44 members of the 131-strong National Assembly in order to force a debate on the issue. It has still to publicize the text of its draft resolution that lists Kocharian’s alleged violations of the constitution.

One of the authors of the initiative, National Democratic Party (AZhK) leader Shavarsh Kocharian (no relation to the president), told RFE/RL that it will contain nine specific grounds for impeachment. “During his four years in office, the president has violated numerous constitutional provisions and laws,” he said.

The one-day delay of the impeachment bid came despite the presence outside the parliament building of about a thousand opposition supporters demanding Kocharian’s resignation. Addressing the crowd, one of the leaders of the loose 13-member alliance of opposition parties, Ashot Manucharian, announced the start of a “period of concrete actions.”

Police forces, in the meantime, blocked a nearby street section to keep the protesters from approaching the main entrance to the assembly building. They were also deployed along the perimeter of the parliament compound in central Yerevan.

The demonstration was intended to be a show of force designed for those lawmakers who killed a similar impeachment bill last fall. However, there were far fewer participants than during previous opposition gatherings.

So far only about two dozen deputies have committed themselves to endorsing the anti-presidential initiative. The overwhelming majority of their colleagues are bound to oppose it.

The opposition views the new impeachment bid as a primarily psychological attack on Kocharian whom they accuse of tightening his grip on power ahead of next year’s presidential elections. The AZhK’s Kocharian did not deny this when he said: “The very fact of it is significant. We want to demonstrate that there are people in Armenia who do not tolerate illegalities.”

The attempt to unseat the president is the climax of a month-long campaign of street protests triggered by the closure of Armenia’s main independent television station. The authorities’ decision on April 2 to pull the plug on the A1+ channel has proved to be a cause for unification for diverse opposition groups.

The popular television station, known for its critical coverage of the government, was sent off the air after losing a controversial tender for its air frequency. A presidentially appointed commission on broadcasting gave it to an entertainment company with reported government links. The A1+ staff, backed by the opposition and international media watchdogs, believes that the decision was ordered by Kocharian and represents a serious threat to press freedom in Armenia.

The commission and Kocharian have rejected the accusations, saying that the bidding was competitive, fair and legal.

But the A1+ director, Mesrop Movsesian, on Tuesday again condemned the closure of his channel, saying that “the commission must be punished” for the move. He claimed that the Armenian Economic Court which turned down his appeal against the results of the frequency tender on April 25 acted on the authorities’ orders. Movsesian also announced that A1+ will soon begin publishing its own newspapers to continue to get its message across.

The closed channel continues to produce news programs that are broadcast by several regional TV stations outside Yerevan. They are also screened every day at the capital’s Freedom Square.
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