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Parliament Majority Blocks Opposition Bid To Lift Martial Law


Armenia-Gevor Gorgisian of the opposition Bright Armenia Party addreses fellow lawmakers during a parliament session, Yerevan, November 26, 2020.

The National Assembly rejected on Thursday an opposition proposal to lift martial law which was declared in Armenia following the outbreak of the Nagorno-Karabakh war on September 27.

Martial law allowed the Armenian government to call a nationwide mobilization of army reservists and restrict some civil liberties, including the freedom of assembly and speech.

The two opposition parties represented in the Armenian parliament say these restrictions are no longer necessary after a Russian-brokered ceasefire that stopped the bloody war on November 10.

“These restrictions apply to the foundations of democracy … They are also having negative economic consequences,” said Gevorg Gorgisian of the Bright Armenia Party (LHK).

The Armenian government and the parliament’s pro-government majority spoke out against a relevant opposition bill presented by Gorgisian. They said that martial law is still needed for the ongoing redeployment of Armenian army units along Armenia’s border with four districts west of Karabakh handed over to Azerbaijan as a result of the war and the truce agreement.

“We are talking about the country’s security and protection of its borders. The introduction and lifting of martial law cannot be an end in itself,” said Aren Mkrtchian of the ruling My Step bloc.

Mkrtchian and the secretary general of the Armenian Defense Ministry, Artur Sargsian, indicated that the ministry has drafted a bill allowing it to draft army reservists without martial law. Lifting it before the bill’s enactment would “create problems for defense and security issues,” Sargsian told lawmakers.

The parliament debate was marred by bitter altercations between pro-government and opposition deputies. At one point, deputy speaker Alen Simonian, who predided over the session, invited security guards into the parliament auditorium to stop them from coming to blows.

In the event, the opposition proposal was backed by 36 only members of the 132-seat parliament. Fifty-six other deputies voted against it.

The LHK and the second parliamentary opposition party, Prosperous Armenia (BHK), again claimed that the authorities are keeping martial law in place to stifle street protests against the truce accord that locked in Azerbaijan’s sweeping territorial gains.

The BHK is among 16 opposition groups that have held a series of anti-government rallies in Yerevan since November 10. The authorities say that the rallies are illegal because of martial law. They have briefly detained scores of opposition ledaers and activists.

Naira Zohrabian, a senior BHK parliamentarian, said that the authorities are reluctant to lift martial law also because it prevents the opposition from submitting a motion of censure against Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian and his government.

“Nikol Pashinian is now a thing of the past,” said Zohrabian. “Nikol Pashinian is now a ghost desperately clinging to power.”

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