Armenia's jailed ex-president: I'll join struggle against new leaders

TBILISI (Reuters) - Armenia’s imprisoned former president Robert Kocharyan told Reuters powerful opposition forces were coming together to challenge the ex-Soviet state’s new leadership soon, and that he hoped to be among them.

FILE PHOTO: Armenia's President Robert Kocharyan speaks to the media after casting his ballot at a polling station in Yerevan February 19, 2008. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Kocharyan, who was president from 1998 to 2008, was arrested last year, charged with acting unlawfully by introducing state of emergency in March 2008, following a disputed election. At least ten people were killed in clashes between police and protesters.

The 64-year-old ex-president was arrested in July after peaceful protests drove his former ally and successor, Serzh Sarksyan, from power and propelled opposition leader Nikol Pashinyan into the prime minister’s job in May, last year.

Critics have accused Kocharyan and his former allies of cracking down on democracy, corruption and mismanagement during their time in power Armenia, a country that depends heavily on Russian aid and investment. They have denied those allegations.

Writing from the detention center where he is being held, Kocharyan told Reuters the charges against him were politically motivated, and accused Pashinyan’s government of selectively applying the law to keep him in jail.

Pashinyan bolstered his authority in Armenia as his political bloc won early parliamentary elections in December last year. The My Step Alliance, which includes Pashinyan’s Civil Contract Party, won 70.4 percent of the vote.

Kocharyan said that new politicians and opposition parties were emerging in Armenia.

“This process will certainly lead to the creation of a powerful political force capable of challenging the authorities very soon,” he said in written answers to questions sent by Reuters earlier this week.

Asked if he would be personally involved in the emerging opposition, he replied: “Yes, of course.”

But he did not give details about what form that involvement could take.

Looking back at the mass protests last year that led to power change in the South Caucasus country of about 3 million people, Kocharyan said they were caused by “accumulated discontent in the society and desire for change”, but were not a revolution.

“I would not call it a revolution as fundamentally nothing has changed in the country, except for the appearance of a big share of aggression in the society, and populism and dilettantism in the leadership,” he said in written answers to questions the Reuters had sent to him.

Kocharyan also defended the decisions he took during the 2008 protests.

“Order was restored only after the introduction of the state of emergency and thanks to it,” he said. “Not doing that would have meant official inaction on the part of the president.”

Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore