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Yet another parliament deputy defected from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK) on Tuesday following a government crackdown unleashed against its leader, Gagik Tsarukian.

Rustam Gasparian’s exit reduced to 29 the number of seats held by the BHK in Armenia’s 131-member parliament. Gasparian gave no formal reasons for the move highlighting the uncertain future of Tsarukian’s party.

The party’s parliamentary faction numbered 36 members before President Serzh Sarkisian harshly condemned Tsarukian on January 12 for threatening to oust him and ordered tax audits of many businesses belonging to the BHK leader. Defections from the BHK faction began just before Tsarukian called off a major anti-government demonstration slated for February 20.

Like Tsarukian, virtually all seven BHK defectors are wealthy businesspeople vulnerable to government pressure. Some of them have publicly acknowledged that they did not want to be at loggerheads with the Sarkisian administration.

Gasparian, who is a well-known veteran of the Nagorno-Karabakh war, called for regime change in Armenia ahead of Tsarukian’s effective capitulation. “People must oust Serzh Sarkisian. There is no other way out,” he said.

Hamlet Harutiunian, a lawmaker representing Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK), on Tuesday did not deny that the government had a hand in the BHK defections. “Has the Republican Party done anything illegal?” he said. “Political processes are underway and we are guided by those processes.”

The BHK is scheduled to hold an emergency congress on Thursday. Naira Zohrabian, a senior party figure, on Tuesday did not deny or confirm media reports that Tsarukian will step down as BHK chairman at the gathering to be held behind closed doors. Zohrabian said only that “serious issues” will be on its agenda.

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