Armenian premier's assassins surrender

President's assurance of a fair trial for the gunmen ends siege of parliament that left eight people dead
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The Independent Online

The former TV journalist who massacred eight government officials in the Armenian parliament said yesterday he intended to kill only the Prime Minister, Vazgen Sarkissian.

The former TV journalist who massacred eight government officials in the Armenian parliament said yesterday he intended to kill only the Prime Minister, Vazgen Sarkissian.

Nairi Hounanian, his younger brother, an uncle and two other attackers surrendered yesterday after all-night negotiations with President Robert Kocharian, who promised them a fair trial. Some 50 MPs who had been held hostage since the gunmen burst into the chamber during a televised session on Wednesday were released as the five men surrendered.

Mr Hounanian, 34, gave an insight into his motives during telephone conversations from the parliament building that were broadcast by a privately owned television station. He appeared to have a personal grudge against Mr Sarkissian, who became Prime Minister in June. According to Mr Hounanian, Mr Sarkissian was leading the country into economic and political deadlock.

"Apart from Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkissian, all the other victims are unfortunately accidental and they are innocent victims. It was because of technical problems that by mistake we shot at others too," Mr Hounanian said. He added: "The time has come for these vampires to pay for what they have done to our nation. They have driven the country into deadlock. We did not have elections in this country for five years now. People are desperately poor."

He added that the reason for the attack should be known to the entire nation. "It is the miserable situation the people are in. There is not a single positive development in Armenia, development is being hindered by the bloodsuckers of the nation," he said.

One of Mr Hounanian's main complaints was that free elections had never been held in Armenia, which became independent in 1991 with the collapse of the Soviet Union. He sounded convinced that the next prime minister should be aware that he could be held personally accountable for events.

The situation in Yerevan remained calm yesterday but within hours of the drama's resolution, the defence ministry issued a statement calling for the resignation of the general prosecutor, the Interior Minister and the Security Minister for failing to prevent a "plot aimed at Armenia's statehood".

Many people stayed up all night watching developments live on television as President Kocharian continued his negotiations with the five, who were armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles. A journalist who witnessed the shooting, Anna Israelian, said that Mr Hounanian shot the Prime Minister at almost point blank range as he was sitting in the front row of the hall, before turning his attention to other MPs.

Mr Hounanian continued to talk at the dead Prime Minister, telling him that he should have known that he would meet such an end. "You have sucked the blood of this nation, bastard. Are you satisfied now?" he repeated. Deputies say that when the shooting stopped, they still did not know what was going on.

"We were under the benches when the shooting stopped," said the Privatisation Minister, Pavel Ghaltaghchian. "Only when we were allowed up did I see the Prime Minister leaning on his bench, already dead," said Mr Ghaltaghchian.

The gunmen let the wounded be taken out of the hall. But they would not let anyone touch the bodies of the Prime Minister and the Speaker, Karen Demirchian, for many more hours. Later, Mr Hounanian let more journalists into the hall and told them they were staging a coup.

In the hours that followed, it transpired that the gunmen had been acting alone and without political backing. Fears that the shooting was linked to Armenia's dispute with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorny Karabakh also proved unfounded.