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By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Armen Zakarian
Armenian officials were working hurriedly on Wednesday to meet Thursday’s deadline for making major changes in President Robert Kocharian’s constitutional package and sending it to the Council of Europe for examination.

Justice Minister David Harutiunian, deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian and other officials dealing with constitutional reform told RFE/RL that they are putting the finishing touches on the revised package of constitutional amendments. They said it will reflect all of the Council of Europe recommendations which Yerevan pledged to accept late last month.

“All agreements remains in force,” said Torosian. “There remain a few technical problems which I think will be solved in the course of the day, and we will certainly send the package tomorrow.”

The authorities specifically undertook to give the Armenian parliament a key role in forming governments, limit the president’s authority to appoint and sack judges and make the mayor of Yerevan an elected official. These changes are also supported by most leaders of the Armenian opposition who have expressed readiness to end their 18-month boycott of parliament.

However, one of the leading opposition groups, the Hanrapetutyun Party, remained on Wednesday adamant in rejecting any amendments put forward by Kocharian and his governing coalition. Hanrapetutyun’s governing board discussed the issue and was due to throw its weight behind its leader, Aram Sarkisian.

Speaking to RFE/RL mid-way through the meeting, Sarkisian reiterated his claims that the constitution and laws are irrelevant to Armenia’s democratization because Kocharian has repeatedly flouted them in order to cling to power. “We will therefore say ‘no’ to the constitution proposed by him,” he said. “That is going to be the decision of our political council.”

Council of Europe officials, however, have said that constitutional reform is a necessary condition for Armenia’s democratization and integration into the European family of nations.

Sarkisian, who has repeatedly vowed to topple Kocharian before the next presidential election due in 2008, also scoffed at the possibility of Hanrapetutyun’s political isolation.
“I am afraid of being isolated from the society, and being isolated from political parties is not a problem for me,” he said. “I am sure that what they are doing with the constitution is not a priority for the society.”

“I assure you that 830,000 people will not go to the polling stations,” the outspoken oppositionist added, referring to the minimum number of votes need for the passage of the amendments at a referendum expected in November.

(Photolur photo: Tigran Torosian.)
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