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By Armen Zakarian

The Armenian Communist Party (HKK), a major opposition force, lambasted President Robert Kocharian on Tuesday for making overtures to a dissident group that split from the HKK last year. The Communist leaders said the move was aimed at splitting their party and "disorienting" its supporters ahead of next year's elections.

"The president's step lacked a profound statesman-like thinking and wisdom," the HKK first secretary, Vladimir Darpinian, told a news conference.

Darpinian and other party leaders spoke to journalists following last week's high-profile meeting between Kocharian and representatives of the Renewed Communist Party of Armenia (HNKK). The organization is led by several senior Communists expelled from the HKK last year over their desire to cooperate with the authorities.

Their meeting held in the presidential palace in Yerevan was an indication of Kocharian's support of the HNKK which is largely sympathetic to him. Political analysts believe that the president would welcome a rise in the new party's popularity at the expense of the mainstream Communists.

But Darpinian expressed confidence that the splinter group will not win over a considerable part of the HKK's traditional electorate despite receiving strong "financial and logistical support" from the presidential administration. "By letting cameras videotape you with the president, you finally split from the people and joine the president who has long split from the people," he said, appealing to HNKK leaders.

Darpinian also announced that the Communists will step up their cooperation with other major parties opposed to Kocharian and even did not rule out the possibility of forming an electoral alliance with them. Naming the Hanrapetutyun, National Accord and People's parties the HKK's potential allies, he said: "We are in talks with them. You will soon hear about the results."

The Communists, who have garnered an average of ten percent in presidential and parliamentary elections of the past decade, have until now avoided forming blocs with other opposition forces. Darpinian's comments suggest that they may now be backing the idea of fielding a single opposition presidential candidate for the elections due early next year.
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