Assassination attempt in Armenia threatens stability

Fri Feb 1, 2013 6:08am EST
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By Hasmik Mkrtchyan

YEREVAN (Reuters) - 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.

Paruyr Hayrikyan, an outsider in the February 18 presidential vote, was shot in the shoulder close to his home in the capital Yerevan on Thursday night. Doctors removed the bullet on Friday and said his life was not in danger.

The motive was not immediately clear but the election, in which President Serzh Sarksyan is widely expected to secure a second five-year term, could be postponed for two weeks under the constitution if he is forced to pull out.

"It's a blow to the leadership of the country and our statehood," Prime Minister Tigran Sarksyan told reporters.

Stability is vital for the former Soviet republic of 3.2 million to woo investors and boost an economy devastated by a war with neighboring Azerbaijan in the 1990s and then the 2008-09 global financial crisis.

The attack will raise fears of a return to the violence that marred the 2008 presidential election in the landlocked country, Russia's main ally in the turbulent south Caucasus.

Violent clashes broke out between opposition protesters and police in 2008, killing about 10 people and further damaging Armenia's hopes of recovery.

"I don't think that this shot was against Mr Hayrikyan," said independent political analyst Alexander Iskanderyan, describing him as a symbol of independence.   Continued...

Armenian presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan is wheeled by medical staff members at the hospital in Yerevan, February 1, 2013. REUTERS/ Sarkisyan/Handout