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By Shakeh Avoyan
Former Foreign Minister Raffi Hovannisian on Monday added his voice to opposition calls for a popular boycott of the upcoming referendum and urged “civil disobedience” in the face of what he described as a government plan to rig the vote.

In an unusually strongly-worded statement read out to reporters, Hovannisian referred to Armenia’s leadership as a “regime that supports thieves, murderers and corrupt individuals and enjoys their support.” He charged that with their draft constitutional amendments President Robert Kocharian and his allies want to cling to power, guarantee their immunity from prosecution and legitimize their “misappropriation of national wealth.”

“It is really pathetic that the ruling clique, which has turned illegalities into a way of life and is enriching itself with unlimited plunder, is pretending to be a custodian of the constitution and laws,” said the popular opposition politician. “By refusing to participate in the forthcoming political show we choose not to give them public amnesty through this false vote,” he added.

The remarks represent the strongest verbal attack on the Armenian authorities ever launched by Hovannisian. The normally reserved U.S.-born lawyer, who was granted Armenian citizenship only in 2001, dismissed their amendments as “cosmetic.” Even the proposed abolition of the constitutional ban on dual citizenship was denounced by him as an attempt to “extend illegalities to the Armenian Diaspora.”

Hovannisian’s Zharangutyun (Heritage) party is a member of a coalition of about two dozen opposition groups jointly campaigning against Kocharian’s constitutional reform. Senior members of Zharangutyun have toured the country with other opposition leaders in recent weeks. But Hovannisian has so far avoided personal involvement in the campaign.

He announced on Monday that Zharangutyun will initiate an anti-government rally in Yerevan on Friday and urged Armenians to attend it. He said the “civic assembly” will be followed up by a larger opposition gathering on voting day. Hovannisian declined to answer any questions from journalists and it was not clear what exactly he plans to do this weekend.

Other opposition leaders appeared unaware of his intentions. Victor Dallakian of the Artarutyun alliance welcomed the former foreign minister’s call for civil disobedience but said he has not discussed joint actions with the bloc. “The Artarutyun alliance has not received any proposals from Mr. Hovannisian to discuss the matter,” Dallakian told RFE/RL. “If we receive a relevant proposal, we will be ready to consider it.”

Another opposition leader, Artashes Geghamian, sounded cool towards Hovannisian’s idea. “Our tactic does involve the holding of such gatherings,” he said.

(Photolur photo)
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