Hon. Alcee L. Hastings, Chairman
Hon. Benjamin L. Cardin, Co-Chairman
For Immediate Release
March 4, 2008
U.S. HELSINKI COMMISSION EXPRESSES DEEP REGRET OVER LOSS OF LIFE IN ARMENIA
(Washington, D.C.) Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), Co-Chairman Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), and Ranking Minority Member Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), remarked that the post-election violence in Armenia was a tragedy for the entire nation.
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“I extend my profound condolences to the victims’ families. It is deeply regrettable that tensions following last month's presidential election could not be handled peacefully,” said Chairman Hastings.
Armenia held a presidential election on February 19. According to official figures, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkissian won, with over 52 percent of the vote, while his main rival, former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, garnered 21.5 percent. Though international observers noted problems with the election, they said that it largely met the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) standards. However, Ter-Petrossian, leading a coalition of opposition forces, refused to accept the outcome. He and his supporters rallied in Yerevan for days, demanding new elections.
On Saturday, violent confrontations broke out when police, claiming that the demonstrators were armed and were planning a coup, attacked them. In the country’s worst violence since independence in 1991, Armenian officials report eight fatalities and numerous injuries. A state of emergency has been imposed for 20 days.
OSCE’s leadership issued a statement condemning the use of violence against peaceful protesters. The Finnish Chair-in-Office (CiO) Foreign Minister Ilkka Kanerva has sent Finnish diplomat Heikki Talvitie to Yerevan to act as a mediator.
“I am deeply saddened by the loss of life in Armenia,” said Co-Chairman Cardin. “It is essential that the authorities exercise restraint. A political dialogue between the government and opposition is a prerequisite to reconciliation in Armenia.”
Ranking Minority Member Smith echoed these sentiments, adding that “I call on Armenia’s authorities to restore regular news sources, which have been silenced. This includes broadcasts by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, which is an important source of objective information and which has been taken off the air.”
Chairman Hastings noted that Armenia’s Constitutional Court is scheduled to rule on a complaint about the election by the opposition coalition. “I urge the Court to consider this critical case with all the somber objectivity mandated by the seriousness of the political crisis in Armenia.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
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