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Harry Tamrazian in Yerevan

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in Yerevan, the leader of the opposition party AZhM (National Democratic Union,) Vazgen Manukian condemned Robert Kocharian's policies as being destructive for the country. "He is dismantling the army, splitting parties and has no right to lead the country", the leader of one of the parliamentary opposition groups said. AZhM, which was one of the influential opposition forces in the former Armenian Parliament now has splitted into four parties. Some leading members of AZhM allied themselves with the president, while others left the party citing serious
differences with Manukian.

"This president must go", said Manukian, who was one of the architects of the "Karabakh" movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led Armenia towards independence from the Soviet Union. Vazgen Manukian, who also headed the first post-independence Armenian
cabinet in 1991, has made two unsuccessful bids for presidency. In 1996, according to official but controversial results lost the elections to former President Levon Ter-Petrossian and in 1999 to incumbent president Robert Kocharian.

Asked whether he will run in next year's presidential elections, Vazgen Manukian said that he will be monitoring political infightings in Armenia and then decide if he has to run for presidency or not. Manukian told journalists that his party will stay with 13 anti-government opposition parties and will continue to cooperate with them.

However, according to the opposition leader, having a single presidential candidate is not the most important issue for the opposition block of 13 pafrties. "Everyone talks about a single candidate, but no one yet is really thinking about it. The most important thing is a victory of ideas...we should rather
rally around ideas not candidates", Vazgen Manukian said. Asked whether he is ready to cooperate with the former ruling party HHSh and other liberal parties, the leader of AZhM said that he doesn't exclude cooperation with any party. He refused to comment on the report that his bitter rival, former president Levon Ter-Petrossian might run in next presidential elections. "He is a politician and he has to decide to run or not. It is not up to me to comment on that possibility," Manukian said.

According to Vazgen Manukiann, after a difficult period, when splinter
groups left AZhM, the party increased its membership and he expects that with its new young members his team will have a strong showing in the upcoming national elections. Manukian said that his party will form alliances with other opposition parties. The opposition leader didn't exclude the consolidation of all anti-government forces in Armenia. "The consolidation of forces with different political views and opinions is possible when there is an objective to unseat the current authorities by all means. We have now such an objective in Armenia", Vazgen Manukian said, predicting that Robert Kocharian will lose his job.

On foreign policy issues, Vazgen Manukian said that Armenia should
continue its dialog with Turkey on different levels with the aim of
establishing economic and political relations. At the same time Armenia should push for the recognition of the Armenian Genocide. Manukian criticized the current government's handling of Armenian-Russian relations, saying that Armenia had very good relations with Russia in the past. Citing the recent Russian-Armenian agreement on debt-for-equities deal, the leader of AZhM said that the current government didn't respect Armenia's dignity by this kind of deals. "You will be punished if you cross the line of dignity",
Vazgen Manukian said. He accused the authorities of handing over state owned assets to Russia to improve their relations with Moscow.
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