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Armenian Opposition Alarmed By ‘Deadly’ Constitutional Change


Armenia - Security forces confront protesters in Yerevan, 1Mar2008.

Armenia - Security forces confront protesters in Yerevan, 1Mar2008.

Armenian opposition leaders accused the authorities on Monday of seeking to facilitate the use of lethal force against dissent through one of the draft constitutional amendments that were made public last week.

The amendment put forward by an ad hoc commission formed by President Serzh Sarkisian complements Article 23 of Armenia’s existing constitution which guarantees people’s right to life. It says that Armenians can be deprived of life in cases involving a “use of force that is absolutely necessary”

Vartan Poghosian, a member of the presidential commission, denied any political motives behind this clause when presented a package of proposed constitutional changes to reporters last week. He said such provisions can be found in European conventions and laws enacted by some Western nations.

Opposition figures rejected this explanation, saying that the Sarkisian administration is simply keen to legitimize the past and future violent crackdowns on anti-government street protests.

“State bodies would be given the right to deprive people of life in cases where they think it is absolutely necessary,” said Levon Zurabian, the deputy chairman of the Armenian National Congress (HAK). “This is a disgraceful thing. This is a constitution for murderers.”

Zurabian cited in that regard the March 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan that left ten people dead and more than 100 others injured. Eight of the victims were supporters of HAK leader Levon Ter-Petrosian who protested against the alleged falsification of a presidential election in which he was the main opposition candidate.Nobody has been prosecuted in connection with their deaths.

“The authorities are now creating a legal environment that would allow them to justify such killings,” Zurabian told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am).

Armen Martirosian, a leading member of another opposition party, Zharangutyun (Heritage), also cited March 2008 crackdown when he condemned the draft amendment in question. He claimed that it is part of Sarkisian’s broader efforts to prolong his rule through a sweeping constitutional reform.

The key element of that reform is Armenia’s transition to a parliamentary system of government envisaging a powerful prime minister and a largely ceremonial president of the republic.

Sarkisian, whose second and final presidential term ends in 2018, has to approve the amendments proposed by his commission before they can be debated by the parliament and put on a referendum.

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