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Hundreds Bused To Yerevan On Polling Day


Armenia -- Minibuses that transported voters from Gyumri to Yerevan on May 31, 2009.

Hundreds of local government officials and other people were bused to Yerevan from Armenia’s second and third largest cities on Sunday in what the ruling Republican Party (HHK) called a show of support for its victory in the municipal elections in the capital.

There was widespread suspicion, however, that many of them were ordered or bribed to participate in the polls in violation of Armenian law.

Armenia -- Minibuses and cars parked outside the Gyumri municipality on May 31, 2009.

About 20 minibuses and dozens of cars were parked outside the municipal administration of the second largest city of Gyumri early in the morning. Scores of municipality officials and other residents led by Deputy Mayor Gagik Manukian, began gathering there moments later.

“We are going to do community service,” Manukian told RFE/RL when asked about the purpose of the extraordinary gathering. He was extremely annoyed by a suggestion that it is related to the Yerevan elections. “Go away!” he told an RFE/RL correspondent.

“Take your device and get out of here. This is not an exhibition,” said a man accompanying the vice-mayor, joining in the tense conversation.

Men standing nearby also denied going to Yerevan. “We have gathered to go to a picnic,” one of them claimed.

Shortly afterwards a convoy of vehicles carrying about 500 people headed to a highway leading to Yerevan under police escort. Two of those minibuses were parked outside the Yerevan headquarters of the Football Federation of Armenia (FFA) about two hours later. Their mostly middle-aged passengers stood outside the building, listening to instructions from a man who presented himself as an FFA security guard. They were then put in taxis and driven in unknown directions.

“Take them and follow our routes,” a middle-aged Gyumri resident told taxi drivers. Speaking to RFE/RL, the man claimed to have arrived in Yerevan to see his daughter. “I don’t know who they are,” he said, pointing to the other people.

The latter were reluctant to explain their arrival in Yerevan on election day. “I don’t want to give you any information,” said one woman. “Please leave me alone.”

Gyumri Mayor Vartan Ghukasian and the FFA chairman, Ruben Hayrapetian, are senior members of the HHK. Both men have been widely linked with vote irregularities reported during previous Armenian elections.

Armenia -- Minibuses parked outside the Vanadzor municipality on May 31, 2009.

A very similar scene was observed in Vanadzor, the other major city in northern Armenia. Just about every senior local government official was among about a hundred people that gathered outside the Vanadzor municipality early in the morning.

“We are going to have a party,” Vanadzor Mayor Samvel Darpinian told an RFE/RL correspondent. “It’s Sunday. Don’t we have a right to rest?”

The correspondent saw the same vehicles enter Yerevan and stop outside the HHK headquarters in the city center more than two hours later. Eduard Sharmazanov, the HHK spokesman, denied any connection between their arrival and the municipal polls. “Today is not a working day,” he said. “People are free to move around the Republic of Armenia.”

“It’s very normal,” added Sharmazanov. “An electoral process is underway, and people have come to cheer for their comrades, their teammates. There is nothing wrong with that.”

Armenia -- A convoy of minibuses and cars stops at the entrance to Yerevan on May 31, 2009.
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