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In a move which some observers link with a controversial constitutional reform planned by President Serzh Sarkisian, Armenia’s Justice Minister Hovannes Manukian has unexpectedly stepped down after only 14 months in office.

Sarkisian’s office gave no explanations when it announced late on Tuesday a presidential decree relieving Manukian of his duties. The announcement came less than a week after the minister went abroad on vacation.

Manukian, who has not yet returned to Armenia, did not comment on his resignation. He did not answer phone calls on Wednesday.

Some Armenian media commentators were quick to speculate that Manukian resigned to pave the way for the appointment as justice minister of a member of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), a rare opposition party supporting the planned constitutional reform.

Representatives of both Dashnaktsutyun and the ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) dismissed the speculation. “What are Dashnaktsutyun members to do with that?” said Vahram Baghdasarian, a senior HHK figure. “I see no connection at all.”

A Dashnaktsutyun representative insisted that a new power-sharing deal with Sarkisian is “not on our agenda.” He said the party has held no such talks with the presidential camp.

Some sources familiar with Manukian’s thinking suggested, meanwhile, the minister decided to quit because he was upset with the fact that he was not included in a presidential commission tasked with drafting sweeping constitutional amendments that would transform Armenia into a parliamentary republic.

Manukian, 43, is a former judge who headed Armenia’s Court of Cassation from 2005-2008. He is thought to have played a decisive role in the sensational acquittal in 2006 of three soldiers accused of murder. A lower court had sentenced them to life imprisonment on what human rights groups denounced as trumped-up charges.

In what was widely construed as a demotion, Manukian was appointed as Armenia’s ambassador in Georgia in September 2008, shortly after praising tens of thousands of opposition supporters who took to the streets of Yerevan in the wake of a disputed presidential election held in February 2008.

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