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Armenian Lawmaker Fined Over Beach Party


Armenia -- Parliament deputy Hayk Sargsian is seen sitting behind the bar at a beach club, July 26, 2020.

Armenian authorities have fined a pro-government parliamentarian and shut down a lakeside resort where he partied at the weekend in breach or coronavirus safety rules set by the government.

The late-night party featuring live music took place at a beach club located on the northern shore of Lake Sevan. Photographs and videos posted on social media showed Hayk Sargsian, a 27-year-old lawmaker affiliated with Armenia’s ruling My Step bloc, and dozens of other young people wearing no face masks and not observing social distancing there.

This caused a media uproar in the country which has had one of the highest coronavirus infection rates in the world. The Armenian government has for months been trying to curb the spread of the disease by enforcing strict anti-epidemic rules. Sargsian himself urged Armenians earlier this summer to comply with the rules requiring them wear masks in all public spaces.

The lawmaker, who is no stranger to controversy, said on Monday that police have fined him and the other revelers. He also apologized to the government for causing “such a big and unnecessary rumpus.”

Sargsian claimed that he only briefly failed to put on a mask. However, the widely publicized images suggest that he was not masked throughout the beach party.

A pop singer who performed at the event said he was told that it was allowed by Deputy Prime Minister Tigran Avinian, who coordinates the government’s response to the coronavirus outbreak. A spokesman for Avinian insisted, however, that his office did not issue such permission.

The office shut down the Spitak Shorzha beach club for two weeks on Tuesday, saying that it violated a government ban on live performances and mass gatherings and failed to enforce other coronavirus safety rules.

The club manager, Vartan Simonian, denounced the measure as disproportionate, saying that he will appeal against it. He said that the controversial party was organized by another private firm.

Some media outlets claimed that Spitak Shorzha is owned by Sargsian. They seized upon a Facebook photo of the young lawmaker sitting behind the club bar and using what looked like a computer cash register.

Sargsian, whose twin brother Nairi is an aide to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian, denies fully or partly owning the resort.

The chief of the Armenian police, Vahe Ghazarian, has also faced media accusations of breaking the government rules. The “Hraparak” daily reported that Ghazarian and dozens of other police officers dined late last week at a restaurant outside Yerevan.

“It was a protocol event, not a restaurant party,” a police spokesman insisted on Tuesday.

Ghazarian’s predecessor was sacked by Pashinian less than two months ago for failing to properly enforce the coronavirus-related state of emergency in the country.

Thousands of Armenians have since been fined by the police for not wearing face masks. The authorities have also temporarily shut down scores of restaurants, manufacturing firms and other businesses not following the anti-epidemic rules.

In early June, Pashinian also fired Armenia’s top army general, Artak Davtian, one day after the latter hosted his son’s wedding party attended by dozens of guests.

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