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Armenpress photo: former parliament speaker Babken Ararktsian


By Armen Zakarian

Political allies of former president Levon Ter-Petrosian will join forces to field common candidates for next year's parliamentary and possibly presidential elections, a prominent member of Armenia's former ruling party said on Tuesday.

Babken Ararktsian, who served as parliament speaker in 1991-1998, said the opposition Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh) and other pro-Ter-Petrosian groups will "definitely" form an alliance ahead of the legislative polls due in May 2003. It has been tentatively named a "bloc of right-wing forces," he said.

The political groups supporting the ex-president began talks on their possible reunification at the urging of Ter-Petrosian earlier this year. But no agreements have been officially announced so far. The HHSh was pushing for the creation of a single opposition party with a rigid hierarchical structure. But its smaller ideological allies, including Ararktsian's Armat organization, opposed the idea, insisting instead on the formation of a loose electoral bloc.

Armat itself is a dissident faction inside the HHSh which is led by Vano Siradeghian, Armenia's fugitive former interior minister, and Alexander Arzumanian, the former foreign minister.

Ararktsian said the center-right opposition, which is highly critical of President Robert Kocharian and his policies, may also put forward its candidate for the next presidential elections which is expected in March 2003. He said it could alternatively endorse another single candidate representing other, more influential opposition forces.

Ararktsian refused to comment on whether Ter-Petrosian will return to active politics and run for president next year. "Ask him," he told reporters.

The former president has largely avoided contacts with the media since his resignation in February 1998.

Ararktsian also blasted the foreign and defense policies of the current authorities, saying that their reliance on Russia could lead Armenia to regional isolation. He said Yerevan should follow the example of neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia and seek closer ties with NATO rather than Russia, which he branded a "racist state carrying out a genocide in Chechnya."
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