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Opposition Demands Parliament Inquiry Into Restaurant Death


Armenia - Deputies from the opposition Armenian National Congress attend a parliament session in Yerevan, 22Jun2012.

Armenia - Deputies from the opposition Armenian National Congress attend a parliament session in Yerevan, 22Jun2012.

The opposition minority in Armenia’s parliament demanded on Thursday that the National Assembly launch a separate inquiry into last month’s deadly violence at a Yerevan restaurant owned by a controversial businessmen close to the government.

In a statement issued on behalf all opposition groups represented in the legislature, the Armenian National Congress (HAK) said the parliament must meet for an emergency session next week and set up an ad hoc commission tasked with investigating the June 17 incident.

Levon Zurabian, the HAK’s parliamentary leader, insisted that the initiative is backed by the opposition Dashnaktsutyun and Zharangutyun parties as well as the opposition-leaning Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK).

The parliament session will go ahead if it is demanded, in writing, by at least 44 members of the 131-seat assembly. The four political forces hold a total of 54 parliament seats. Thirty-seven of them are controlled by the BHK.

Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK lawmaker, voiced support for the initiative but said the opposition is unlikely to succeed in collecting 44 signatures. “A considerable part of the BHK faction’s deputies are not in the country at the moment, and even at the meeting with European Union President Herman Van Rompuy [last week] there were only 12 or 13 of them,” Zohrabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

“The faction is technically unable to discuss such the issue. That doesn’t mean, of course, that several deputies of our faction … cannot join in that initiative tomorrow,” she said.

“We are not sure that we can collect 44 signatures,” Zurabian acknowledged at a news conference. “But the thing is that many [deputies] say that if there is an initiative they will join it. That’s why we are now initiating it now.”

The opposition demanded earlier that speaker Hovik Abrahamian call parliamentary hearings on the June 17 beating of three military doctors by security guards at the Harsnakar restaurant. One of the doctors, Vahe Avetian, died on June 29. Abrahamian rejected the opposition demand earlier this week, saying that a parliamentary intervention would hamper an ongoing police investigation into the incident that has sparked public outrage.

Hundreds of Armenians have taken to the streets in recent weeks to protest against what they see as impunity enjoyed by government-linked millionaire businessmen and their bodyguards. The protests forced Harsnakar’s influential owner, Ruben Hayrapetian, to resign as a parliament deputy last week.

Hayrapetian’s resignation did not placate the protesters led by civic campaigners. They say that the tycoon may have personally sanctioned the beatings and should therefore be prosecuted too.

Hayrapetian, who is affiliated with the ruling Republican Party, was questioned by the police late last week. A senior police investigator, Arsen Ayvazian, said on Tuesday that he was not at the restaurant during the incident and is therefore not responsible for Major Vahe Avetian’s death. Ayvazian also insisted that none of the six men arrested and charged in the high-profile case worked as Hayrapetian’s bodyguards.

Protest organizers denounced these statements on Thursday, alleging that the police may be preparing the ground for a cover-up of the crime. “It’s not the police that are making decisions,” one of the activists, Davit Sanasarian, told RFE/RL’s Armenian service. “In my view, the decisions are made at the presidential administration. As we can see, they are trying to cover up the case.”
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