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An independent election candidate has pulled out of the Armenian parliamentary race after being injured in a reported attack which his family blames on his main rival backed by President Serzh Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK).

Meruzhan Mkhoyan’s relatives confirmed on Monday that he withdrew his candidacy from a single-mandate constituency in the southern Armavir region because of the assault. “They were telling us, ‘Drop out or we’ll hurt your kids,” his wife told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am), referring to local loyalists of HHK candidate and businessman Aleksan Petrosian.

According to his family, Mkhoyan was kidnapped from his house in the regional capital Armavir and driven to a nearby village cemetery by a group of men early on Friday. The incident is said to have degenerated into a mass brawl after the candidate’s friends and male relatives rushed to his aid moments later.

Law-enforcement authorities have so far given few details of the incident. They only said on Friday afternoon that two young men were seriously injured in the melee and that criminal investigation is underway. Nobody was arrested as of Monday evening.

It emerged that Mkhoyan and his cousin Mushegh were also taken to an Armavir hospital later on Friday. Doctors there said the election candidate suffered a concussion.

Mkhoyan, who is not known to have engaged in political activities before, withdrew from the race on Saturday. According to a district election commission in Armavir, he gave no reason for the move.

Mkhoyan was at home on Monday but refused to comment on the incident, leaving it to his wife and other relatives to answer journalists’ questions. The relatives insisted that Petrosian’s loyalists attacked him in order to force him to stop challenging the HHK candidate in the May 6 election. Petrosian’s campaign aides denied the allegations, however.

The HHK leadership in Yerevan also denied any connection with the Armavir violence. “I don’t think that was done for the Republican Party,” HHK spokesman Eduard Sharmazanov told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am). “But if anyone breached the law in any way, they must be strictly punished regardless of their party affiliation.”

“Everyone must realize that paying [the ruling party] a lip service will not work anymore,” he said. “Everyone must know that for the Republican Party the most important objective is the conduct of free, fair and democratic elections.”

Sharmazanov added that the incident must not call into question the seriousness of the Armenian authorities’ pledges to make the May 6 parliamentary elections the most democratic in the country’s history.

Armenia’s leading opposition groups will likely dismiss these assurances. Earlier this year they joined forces to demand that the elections be held only under the party-list basis. Wealthy candidates traditionally doing well in single-mandate constituencies have long been accused by them of vote buying and intimidation.

The HHK majority in the outgoing National Assembly rejected the opposition demands. The vast majority of 33 candidates fielded by President Sarkisian’s party in single-seat districts are government-linked businessmen like Petrosian. The latter owns one of Armenia’s leading alcoholic beverage firms.
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