By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Karine Kalantarian
Leaders of Armenia’s governing coalition and the biggest opposition alliance met late Monday to discuss ways of easing political tensions sparked by the opposition campaign of street protests against President Robert Kocharian.
The two sides announced no compromise deals afterwards but appeared largely satisfied with their first face-to-face contact since the outbreak of the crisis, saying that it could “serve as a basis for a dialogue” between them. They said they will hold more such talks on Tuesday.
The talks are scheduled to resume less than three hours before the start of what the Armenian opposition says will be a “decisive” anti-Kocharian demonstration in Yerevan. Representatives of the Artarutyun (Justice) bloc said the rally will go ahead despite what one of them described as a “very constructive and friendly” character of Monday’s discussion.
Speaking to RFE/RL earlier in the day, they reaffirmed a long list of opposition preconditions for the proposed dialogue, a referendum of confidence in Kocharian being the most important of them. Those also include an end to the ongoing “political persecutions” of opposition activists, the release of all “political prisoners” and the punishment of law-enforcement officers involved in the violent break-up of the April 13 opposition demonstration just outside the parliament building in Yerevan.
“We will not give up any of these demands,” Artarutyun lawmaker Victor Dallakian said. “The authorities must return to the legal field.”
The Dashnaktsutyun, Republican and Orinats Yerkir parties that are represented in Armenia’s government and hold the majority of seats in the National Assembly have repeatedly rejected the idea of a national vote of confidence in Kocharian floated by the Constitutional Court last year. They have instead proposed giving the opposition a say in the reform of Armenia’s constitution and election legislation if the latter stops challenging Kocharian’s legitimacy.
It is still not clear if the opposition will again urge supporters to march towards Kocharian’s residence on Tuesday. A newspaper report said on Saturday that Artarutyun and its opposition ally, the National Unity Party (AMK) will try to block the presidential palace from three directions if they manage to gather tens of thousands of supporters. The authorities have warned that they will again use force against protesters if they block any street in central Yerevan.
The AMK sent no representatives to the talks initiated by parliament speaker Artur Baghdasarian because its leader, Artashes Geghamian, is currently in Strasbourg attending the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which opened on Monday. The PACE president, Peter Schieder, announced that the 45-nation assembly will likely hold an emergency debate on the political situation in Armenia on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Kocharian was expected to meet with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris later in the day. He is due in Warsaw on Tuesday for talks with his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliev.