President Serzh Sarkisian has again rejected his top challenger’s offer to meet in a public square in Yerevan for talks that would put an end to current post-election tensions in Armenia.
In comments made available to the media on Wednesday Armen Arzumanian, a spokesman for the Armenian president, stressed that Sarkisian had always been ‘patient and constructive in his steps’ and still considered his earlier proposals to Hovannisian about ending his hunger strike and engaging in talks to be valid. But he warned that “the language of ungrounded ultimatums being spoken in the square is reducing their relevance by the hour.”
“The meetings of the president are organized in accordance with a pre-planned protocol, at hours fixed in advance and take place at the presidential palace,” emphasized the spokesman, suggesting that Sarkisian could not meet his challenger otherwise.
In his earlier statements Hovannisian insisted that he would meet Sarkisian only in Liberty Square or a nearby café in a format acceptable to the president. He said the president could also present a concrete proposal to him in writing.
The opposition leader, who has been on a hunger strike in the square for over two weeks, also stressed that he would end his protest at the moment of his choosing. He still insisted that it wasn’t an obstacle to talks on the current crisis.
During an open-air press conference on Wednesday Hovannisian reiterated that the set of conditions on which he would agree to recognize Sarkisian’s ‘de-facto presidency’ were an integral proposal and that if any of the conditions were to be rejected, another one equivalent to it should be suggested.
To end protests, Hovannisian, in particular, demanded fresh parliamentary elections to be held by the end of the year, a drastic electoral reform and several key posts in the new government.
“This is the lowest threshold around which negotiations can be conducted,” said the former presidential candidate, insisting that he wasn’t seeking any sort of coalition with the Sarkisian government or bargaining with the authorities over posts, but was trying to find a ‘complex solution’ to the current conundrum.
Hovannisian, who officially polled about 37 percent of the vote in the February 18 presidential ballot, as opposed to Sarkisian’s official election tally of more than 58 percent, insists that the election was rigged in favor of the incumbent president. By its verdict earlier this month, however, the Constitutional Court upheld the final results of the vote giving victory to Sarkisian.
After leading protests and rallies in capital Yerevan and major provincial towns for nearly three weeks Hovannisian went on a hunger strike on March 10. Before embarking on this extreme form of protest the opposition challenger warned that if Sarkisian decided to go ahead with his inauguration scheduled for April 9 then he would be sworn in over his, Hovannisian’s, ‘dead body’.
Hovannisian later indicated on several occasions that he did not mean to starve himself to death as his statement would suggest, but insisted that Armenia will see ‘a new dawn’ at the end of his grueling campaign.