Opposition leader Raffi Hovannisian decided to continue his antigovernment hunger strike in Yerevan on Friday despite personal appeals from speaker Hovik Abrahamian and other leaders of the Armenian parliament’s pro-government majority.
Abrahamian and other senior lawmakers representing Armenia’s governing coalition visited the leader of the opposition Zharangutyun (Heritage) party on the 11th day of his around-the-clock sit-in in the city’s Liberty Square.
“His visit gave me a very important spiritual boost, but I don’t intend to end the hunger strike yet,” Hovannisian said afterwards. “My freedom fast in Liberty Square will continue.”
Seated on a bench next to Hovannisian, Abrahamian spent about 15 minutes talking to the U.S.-born former foreign minister and urging him to the end the protest in the presence of journalists.
“In a sense, I share your concerns,” the speaker said. “We also have concerns over some directions. We too want radical steps.” But he said Hovannisian should revert to more conventional methods of political struggle.
Hovannisian heard similar appeals from the deputy parliament speaker Samvel Balasanian and other lawmakers from the Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), a junior partner in the ruling coalition. They said BHK leader Gagik Tsarukian is asking him to end the protest.
Balasanian also presented Zharangutyun’s visibly thinned and weakened leader with a bible sent by Tsarukian. “We’ve brought you a good thing,” he said. “Let it be your guardian.”
Also visiting Hovannisian were parliamentary deputies from the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun). “You look good,” one of them, Vahan Hovannisian, told him.
“Isn’t he more handsome now?” said Lilit Galstian, another Dashnaktsutyun deputy.
Speaking to journalists earlier in the day, Hovannisian reiterated his calls for the Armenian authorities to “return power to the people.” Asked whether he wants fresh presidential and parliamentary elections, he said, “The people have already demanded. I am now waiting for the government camp as well as the fighting public to act in the next few weeks.”
“My demand is the people’s demand and I’m too little to put up a banner and say, ‘This is what I demand.’ The demand has already been registered and I join that demand,” he added.
Abrahamian made clear, however, that the Armenian leadership remains opposed to the idea of snap polls. “We must do everything in accordance with the constitution,” he told journalists. “The people’s wishes become visible as a result of elections. Not much time is left before our parliamentary elections and our political forces and the society will have an opportunity to express their views in the parliamentary elections of May 2012.”
“Every pre-term election reflects negatively on the country’s image,” said the speaker.