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By Ruzanna Stepanian in Strasbourg
The Armenian authorities looked set on Tuesday avoid embarrassing sanctions threatened by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) over their unprecedented post-election crackdown on the opposition.

In a major boost to the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian, the PACE’s Monitoring Committee proposed that Armenia be given more time to comply with a resolution adopted by the Strasbourg-based body last April.

The resolution demanded the release of all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges” following last February’s disputed presidential election. It also called for the scrapping of serious restrictions on freedom of assembly and the launch of an independent inquiry into the deadly post-election clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. The PACE warned that failure to take these measures could lead to the suspension of the voting rights of its four Armenian members.

The 47-nation assembly is due to discuss the matter on Wednesday and make a decision based on the Monitoring Committee’s recommendations. Georges Colombier and John Prescott, the two committee rapporteurs who visited Armenia last week, will argue that the measures taken by the Armenian authorities so far are “insufficient” for meeting the PACE demands. Nonetheless, they will urge fellow parliamentarians not to sanction Yerevan for the time being.

“While regretting the delay in implementing the concrete measures to comply with the Assembly demands, the Monitoring Committee acknowledges that the time given to the Armenian authorities was short,” read a committee report drawn up by Colombier and Prescott. “It therefore proposes to the Assembly to review at its January 2009 part-session the extent of Armenia’s compliance with the requirements made in Resolution 1609.”

Armen Rustamian, one of the PACE’s Armenian members representing the pro-government Armenian Revolutionary Federation, welcomed the report. Speaking to RFE/RL, he said the PACE will be better placed to assess the Armenian government’s compliance with the resolution at its January session.

In a separate draft resolution submitted to the PACE, the Monitoring Committee deplored the Armenian government’s failure to release all opposition members “seemingly detained on artificial and politically motivated charges.” It called for the release of those detainees who were only charged with seeking to “usurp power” in the wake of the February 19 election. The proposed new resolution also condemns court verdicts against other opposition activists that are “based solely on a single police testimony.”

The document praises the authorities for easing serious restrictions on freedom of assembly that were imposed following the bloody suppression of the Armenian opposition’s post-election protests in Yerevan. It says they should now avoid banning further anti-government demonstrations.

The proposed resolution also welcomes the establishment of an Armenian parliamentary commission tasked with investigating the March 1 unrest that left at least ten people dead. While expressing misgivings about the “impartiality and independence” of the ad hoc body, it calls on Armenia’s main opposition alliance led by Levon Ter-Petrosian to join the inquiry.

Ter-Petrosian has rejected government offers to name a representative to the commission. He and his allies say it is dominated by pro-government lawmakers and can therefore not be objective.

(Council of Europe photo)
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