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By Shakeh Avoyan and Ruzanna Khachatrian

A leading Armenian daily, “Aravot,” had its entire print run bought up by unknown individuals on Thursday after printing an article that accused close associates of Prime Minister Andranik Markarian of corruption.

The newspaper’s editor blamed the mysterious disappearance of “Aravot” on senior government officials anxious to withhold important information from the public. The accusations were backed by local media watchdogs and leading opposition parties.

President Robert Kocharian said the authorities should investigate circumstances of the incident, according to his spokesman Vahe Gabrielian. “If the law was violated, those guilty will definitely be punished,” Gabrielian told RFE/RL.

The paper’s Thursday issue contained an article alleging that an aide to Markarian, Gevorg Hakobian, and the premier’s former chief of staff, Hrach Abgarian, resorted to blackmail and other illegal practices to buy a popular resort complex in Tsaghkadzor, central Armenia. The story was titled “Prime Minister’s Cronies Abuse.”

“They knew that this story will run today because we had asked them for comment,” the “Aravot” editor, Aram Abrahamian, told RFE/RL. “This is a form of censorship. I don’t think that the government was not involved in that.”

Although the state-run newspaper distribution agency Haymamul claimed that “Aravot” issues did reach newsstands, no one, including Abrahamian, could get a copy. The 4,600 or so copies were apparently purchased on their way from the Tigran Mets printing house to Haymamul.

“We consider this fact a crime and demand that the law-enforcement agencies identify and punish the guilty,” the Yerevan Press Club and the Armenian Union of Journalists said in a joint statement.

Representatives of the country’s leading opposition parties also joined the chorus of disapproval. “Those who have done this are liable for criminal prosecution,” said Artak Zeynalian of the opposition Hanrapetutyun party.

“Aravot,” which is highly critical of the current authorities, says a similar wholesale purchase of its entire issue occurred in the run-up to the October 20 local elections. Proxies of a pro-Markarian candidate in Yerevan’s central Kentron district reportedly bought up “Aravot” copies carrying their rival’s campaign ads. The candidate, Gagik Beglarian, eventually won the election.
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