Wounded Armenian candidate will not delay election

YEREVAN Tue Feb 5, 2013 2:50pm EST

Armenia's President Serzh Sarksyan (R) visits injured presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan at the hospital in Yerevan, February 1, 2013. An assassination attempt on a presidential candidate in Armenia has thrown this month's election into doubt and could threaten stability in the volatile Caucasus region that carries oil and natural gas to Europe. REUTERS/PanArmenianPhoto/Tigran Mehrabyan/Handout

Armenia's President Serzh Sarksyan (R) visits injured presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan at the hospital in Yerevan, February 1, 2013. An assassination attempt on a presidential candidate in Armenia has thrown this month's election into doubt and could threaten stability in the volatile Caucasus region that carries oil and natural gas to Europe.

Credit: Reuters/PanArmenianPhoto/Tigran Mehrabyan/Handout

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YEREVAN (Reuters) - An Armenian presidential candidate who was shot last week will not seek a postponement to this month's election to avoid the risk of further instability in the former Soviet republic, his lawyer and other backers said on Tuesday.

Paruyr Hayrikyan, an outsider in the race in which President Serzh Sarksyan is widely expected to win a new five-year term, was shot in the shoulder on January 31 near his home in Yerevan.

He could have asked the Constitutional Court for a two-week postponement of the February 18 vote, which would have raised the prospect of instability in Armenia, a country of 2.3 million with an economy struggling with regional isolation and the effects of a war with neighboring Azerbaijan in the 1990s.

Hayrikyan did not want to let that happen, a spokesman said.

"The goal of the attack was to kill Hayrikyan and organize a new election. Taking that into consideration, we want to make sure they do not attain their goal," Karo Yeghnukyan, a spokesman for the candidate, told a news conference.

Violence flared after Sarksyan's election in 2008, leaving 10 people dead when police clashed with supporters of former president and opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan who protested for days on the streets of the capital.

The government imposed a state of emergency during the unrest in the landlocked nation that borders Turkey, Azerbaijan, Iran and Georgia.

Hayrikyan's lawyer, Levon Baghdasaryan, confirmed his client would let the election go ahead as planned despite difficulties in continuing his campaign.

"Regardless of the fact that as a result of the assassination attempt insurmountable hurdles have arisen, Hayrikyan will not appeal to the Constitutional Court with a demand to postpone the day of the presidential election," he said.

Doctors have removed the bullet and said Hayrikyan's life was not in danger, but he remained in hospital on Tuesday. Police have not named any suspects.

Hayrikyan, a pro-Western former Soviet dissident, said hours after the shooting that he suspected a foreign secret service and suggested he was referring to Russia, which is Armenia's main ally and has a military base on its territory.

Armenia's relations with Azerbaijan have been severely strained since the war over Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave in Azerbaijan controlled by ethnic Armenians. Some 30,000 people were killed in the war before a ceasefire was declared in 1994.

Violence still flares sporadically along the ceasefire line and Azerbaijan's border with Armenia. Azerbaijan said on Tuesday that Yerevan-backed forces had killed two of its soldiers near Nagorno-Karabakh.

Relations with Turkey have also been fraught after Ankara closed its border with Armenia in 1993 in support of its ethnic kin in Azerbaijan. Armenia also wants Turkey to recognize mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces in 1915 as genocide.

Hayrikyan, 63, leads a moderate opposition party, the National Self-determination Union and ran for president in 2003.

(Writing by Thomas Grove; Editing by Alison Williams and Jon Hemming)

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