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By Emil Danielyan
The Armenian National Congress (HAK) has welcomed the Council of Europe’s latest threats to impose sanctions on Armenia as a “brilliant victory” for the opposition movement led by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian.

The Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) urged the Strasbourg-based body on Wednesday to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members because of the continuing imprisonment of Ter-Petrosian supporters arrested following last February’s presidential election. In a draft resolution proposed to the PACE, the committee for the first time described them as “political prisoners.”

“The decision by the PACE’s Monitoring Committee is a brilliant victory for the Popular Movement launched nearly one year ago,” the HAK said in a written statement issued late Thursday. “For the first time our opinions and evaluations are included in a very important international document.”

The Ter-Petrosian-led alliance said that the proposed sanctions are “directed not against Armenia and its people but Armenia’s ruling regime.” “Stripping the Armenian delegation of its vote would not damage Armenia and its people, as is claimed by regime officials,” it said. “Losing its vote is a delegation whose activities in the PACE have until now been fully aimed at defending the current kleptocratic regime, rather than the interests of Armenia and its people.”

Ter-Petrosian and his associates have until now been highly critical of the West over its perceived lenient reaction to the Armenian authorities’ handling of the presidential election and the ensuing deadly clashes in Yerevan. They believe that Western observers’ initially positive assessment of the February 19 ballot gave the authorities the green light to use deadly force against thousands of opposition demonstrators.

The Armenian government, which denies the existence of political prisoners in the country, still hopes to avert the embarrassing sanctions before the PACE’s next session due in late January. The Monitoring Committee’s two Armenia rapporteurs, John Prescott and Georges Colombier, will visit Yerevan earlier in January for more talks with government officials and opposition representatives.

(Photolur photo: HAK supporters protest against the trial of seven opposition figures that began on Friday.)
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