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By Emil Danielyan
President Robert Kocharian announced on Thursday the long-awaited appointment of Minister for Local Government Hovik Abrahamian as head of a newly created government agency, solidifying his status of Armenia’s unofficial deputy prime minister.

Abrahamian, a minister without portfolio until now, will take over the government departments on emergencies, refugee affairs that have been merged into a single agency called the Ministry for Local Government. The ministry will also exercise direct control over the government-appointed governors of Yerevan and Armenia’s ten provinces.

A statement issued by Kocharian’s office did not explain the rationale for the structural change that has been anticipated since the beginning of this year. He received Abrahamian later in the day and, according to his press service, called for cost-saving staff cuts in the merged agencies.

In a separate decree announced after the meeting, Kocharian also appointed Abrahamian a member of his National Security Council.

Local observers agree that the appointments will make the latter an even more influential figure. Some have said he will become a “super-minister.”

But Abrahamian played down his imminent promotion last February, arguing that he already oversees those departments. “I am already a super-minister,” he told reporters at the time. He also dismissed speculation that Kocharian wants to use him as a counterweight to Prime Minister Andranik Markarian.

Abrahamian is affiliated with Markarian’s Republican Party (HHK) and has extensive business interests in his native Artashat district south of Yerevan.

Opposition leaders have repeatedly accused Abrahamian of playing a large role in vote falsifications reported during the presidential and parliamentary elections of 2003. Some of them have publicly used Abrahamian’s reputed “Muk” (Mouse) nickname in their verbal attacks on the official.

The minister is also believed to have uneasy relations with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), one of the three parties represented in Markarian’s cabinet.
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