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By Emil Danielyan
The United States remains neutral in the bitter dispute between President Robert Kocharian and the Armenian opposition, and hopes that both sides will exercise “restraint” in their further actions, U.S. Ambassador John Ordway said on Thursday.

Ordway also renewed U.S. calls for a dialogue between the two rival camps. But he would not be drawn on what specific compromise deals could resolve the lingering tensions which might again flare up into a violent confrontation next week.

“Just as was the case in the [2003] elections, we do not take a position as to who should have been elected and we certainly do not take a position today as to who is right or who is wrong in the political debate, discussions that are going on in the country,” Ordway told a news conference. “We would hope that both the opposition and the police authorities would exercise restraint in how they go about carrying out what each believes to be its functions.”

“We most certainly do not want a repetition of the kind of events that took place on the night of April 12 to 13,” he added, referring to the violent break-up of an early-morning opposition demonstration near Kocharian’s residence.

Scores of demonstrators were injured and arrested in the melee that occurred just meters away from the U.S. embassy in Yerevan. The heavy-handed police actions have been condemned by the opposition and local human rights groups. The authorities, however, claim that they prevented an opposition coup d’etat.

Ordway implied that both sides are to blame for the violence, saying that they should now “ask themselves some questions about their activities on that night” and act in “in a responsible manner that avoids violence and confrontation.” But echoing an April 15 statement by the State Department, he did criticize police raids on opposition offices and mass arrests that followed the troubled anti-Kocharian protest.

“We had asked that people who had been arrested for political reasons be released, and we are glad that most, if not all of those people, have been released,” the envoy said.

Defying government warnings, Armenian opposition leaders signaled on Wednesday their intention to stage another “decisive” demonstration along the city’s Marshal Baghramian Avenue leading to the presidential palace. Their two-month campaign to unseat Kocharian has drawn comparisons with last November’s “rose revolution” in neighboring Georgia which followed reputedly fraudulent parliamentary elections.

Washington is thought to have played a major role in the bloodless overthrow of then Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, but seems to be walking a more delicate line in Armenia.

In a commentary published by “The Wall Street Journal” last week, David Phillips of America’s influential Council on Foreign Relations called for an internationally supervised referendum of confidence in “Mr. Kocharian’s corrupt and inept administration.” “While making clear that it will not tolerate violence against pro-democracy demonstrators in [Yerevan’s] Freedom Square, Washington can help broker a solution to Armenia's political impasse by encouraging an agreement between the government and opposition to hold a referendum within three months,” he wrote.

Phillips also advises the State Department on conflict resolution and has been the de facto chairman of the U.S.-sponsored Turkish-Armenian Reconciliation Commission. He paid a low-key visit to Yerevan just days before the government crackdown on the opposition.

Ordway made it clear that the government-connected scholar’s views do not reflect the official U.S. policy on Armenia. “Mr. Phillips is expressing his own personal and private views on this issue,” he said.

The U.S. envoy, who will complete his diplomatic term in Armenia this summer, stressed that the only way out of the impasse is an “honest dialogue” between the government and its opponents. But he admitted that chances of such a dialogue have decreased over the last week.

“The end result of what happened on the night of April 12 to 13 has exacerbated the situation and has made it more difficult to create the kind of political space and dialogue that we think is necessary to move forward,” Ordway said.
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