By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Artashes Geghamian, the popular leader of the opposition National Unity Party, signaled on Wednesday his crucial readiness to join in the upcoming assault on President Robert Kocharian to be staged by the hitherto rival Artarutyun (Justice) alliance.
In an interview with RFE/RL, Geghamian said he and other parliament deputies from National Unity “will hold a meeting with residents of Yerevan during which there will most probably be an announcement about joint actions to be taken by National Unity Party and the Artarutyun bloc soon.” He specified that those would be “joint rallies.” The decision was made by the party’s leadership earlier in the day, he added.
Geghamian’s participation would boost Artarutyun’s chances of gathering big crowds in central Yerevan which the opposition hopes will force Kocharian to step down. Geghamian, who finished third in last year’s disputed presidential election, has reportedly been courted by Artarutyun leaders for the past two weeks.
The issue was discussed by the bloc’s governing board at a meeting on Wednesday. “That is being dealt with, and I think we will soon find out about a positive outcome,” one of its members, Vazgen Manukian, told journalists.
Manukian said the Artarutyun leaders are still “clarifying the date” for the launch of street protests. They had earlier set an April 12 deadline for the campaign.
Artarutyun and National Unity have had an uneasy relationship since the 2003 poll, accusing each other of secret collaboration with the regime. A bitter war of words earlier this year between Geghamian and Defense Minister Serzh Sarkisian has paved the way for their rapprochement.
Kocharian, meanwhile, discussed the situation with Prime Minister Andranik Markarian, parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian and other leaders of the three pro-presidential parties represented in his government. The president, according to his press service, was briefed on the recent visits by senior government officials to the mainly rural regions outside Yerevan.
The trips are believed to have been aimed at alleviating public disaffection with persisting social hardship -- a key source of popular support for the opposition. In a separate effort to neutralize the opposition onslaught, Kocharian ordered last week a sweeping reshuffle of his security agencies.
The opposition alleges that he wants to make sure that the law-enforcement authorities counter the planned opposition rallies by force and mass arrests. One of its senior members, Victor Dallakian, claimed to have been attacked and beaten by three unknown men in Yerevan on Monday night.
Dallakian appeared on Wednesday before reporters with a visible injury on his right cheek. He said the attackers punched him “without uttering a word.” “It is beyond doubt for me that what
happened had political motives,” he said, blaming the alleged attack on the authorities.
A parliament spokeswoman said speaker Baghdasarian “condemned the violence” in a phone conversation with the opposition lawmaker. Police in Yerevan pledged to investigate the incident.