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Pausing over Karabakh: Armenian opposition suspends protests to “save” government from foreign pressures

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By Marianna Grigoryan ArmeniaNow reporter Published: 20 October, 2008

Armenia’s ex-President and current opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan called a temporary halt to large-scale anti-government protests that his loyalists have staged since he returned to major-league politics with an announcement of his presidential bid nearly a year ago.

Ter-Petrosyan, who nearly toppled Armenia’s leadership with his demonstrations of protests in the wake of the disputed presidential election of February 19, told thousands of his supporters at a rally in downtown Yerevan Friday evening that the suspension of mass events “for two or three months” was a response to anticipated “foreign pressures” on the Armenian government in the time to come.

At the same time, the leader of the opposition Armenian National Congress stressed that it did not mean “a complete freezing of the movement’s activities.”

“Putting the national and state interest above all in the political struggle for power, I had earlier stated that in the event of a military threat to Nagorno-Karabakh I would call upon the popular movement activists and supporters to suspend their activities and dedicate themselves to the cause of all-national struggle,” Ter-Petrosyan reminded. “As the imminent solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with its implied dangers is tantamount to a military threat, I think it is time for this call to be made.”

Stating that the current circumstances require a serious approach from all political forces of Armenia, the opposition leader said that with its “bold and responsible step” to halt mass events temporarily, the popular movement proves its “seriousness.”

The once deadlocked peace process over the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has received a major diplomatic boost of late.

The United States, France and Russia, the three states leading international efforts for the settlement of the conflict, have meanwhile expressed optimism about a possible agreement on a solution in the near future.

Their repeated calls for the parties to the conflict to refrain from war rhetoric contrasted, however, with the recent bellicose statements made by the Azeri leader.

Ilham Aliyev, who was reelected as president of Azerbaijan with close to 90 percent of votes on October 15, vowed to continue “a policy of Armenia’s isolation until it stops the occupation of Azerbaijani lands.”

In an interview to the BBC Russian service last month U.S. co-chairman of the OSCE Minsk Group Matthew Bryza said that “Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity should be the main principle of the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.”

“We think we should start with the principle of Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity, then the other principles should be added to bring the negotiations to framework agreement,” Bryza said. “We know that Armenia has a different view. But we should help Azerbaijan and Armenia to reach an understanding using creative and constructive ways.”

The need for a speedy solution to the longstanding conflict was also highlighted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried who visited Yerevan at the end of the week.

As the senior U.S. diplomat was making his trip, which was an indication to many observers in Yerevan of a U.S.-Armenia relations growing closer, the country’s opposition leader criticized the western leaning of President Serzh Sargsyan’s administration and called for “improving relations” with Russia to avoid a situation when a solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict would be forced by one world power unilaterally.