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Embarrassed Markarian Promises 'Stricter' Gun Control

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  • Embarrassed Markarian Promises 'Stricter' Gun Control

    By Astghik Bedevian, Armenia
    Radio Liberty, Czech Rep.
    Oct 6 2005

    Prime Minister Andranik Markarian pledged late Wednesday to be more
    careful in presenting government officials and friends with firearms
    and effectively admitted that one of those "gifts" was used in a
    recent high-profile murder.

    He said he asked the Armenian police to screen prospective recipients
    of such presents "more strictly."

    Markarian has faced embarrassing questions about his weapons-giving
    practices since an extraordinary crime committed in a small town near
    Yerevan on September 27. The mayor of Nor Hajn, Armen Keshishian,
    reportedly shot dead a local businessman in broad light after a
    bitter argument over what police describe as "illegal construction"
    financed by the latter.

    The dead man supported Keshishian's challenger in the local election
    scheduled for this Sunday. The mayor, who was close to Markarian's
    Republican Party (HHK), is currently under arrest pending trial.

    Armenian media have reported that the pistols used in this and
    several other crimes had been given to their perpetrators by the
    Armenian premier.

    Markarian did not deny those reports. "We will try to make things
    stricter from now on," he told reporters. "The police have already
    been given a corresponding instruction."

    Markarian at the same time insisted that the existing legal procedures
    allowing him to award handguns to citizens are not flawed.

    "In this country only I present weapons," he said. "But I don't give
    anyone such presents until the police check the origin of a weapon,
    the identity and credibility of its recipient."

    According to some press reports, there are more than 500 such
    recipients. President Robert Kocharian is said to have ordered
    law-enforcement agencies to double-check their identity and criminal
    records following the Nor Hajn crime.

    Under Armenian law, citizens can not possess any firearms without
    police permission which is supposed to be given only in exceptional
    circumstances. The controversial prime-ministerial "gifts" appear to
    have been one of the easiest ways of obtaining such permissions.