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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 16:43 GMT 17:43 UK

World: Europe

Q&A: What next in Armenia?

Armed gunmen burst into the Armenian parliament on Wednesday, killing eight leading politicians, including Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian. BBC Moscow correspondent Andrew Harding considers what could happen next in the former Soviet republic.

What changes will the shooting have on Armenian politics?

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That depends very much on whether or not Armenians conclude that the gunmen were acting independently.

If evidence comes to light linking them to any political forces inside, or outside the country, that could have serious repercussions.

So far, most people I've spoken to in Yerevan seem pretty convinced that this was not part of a wider conspiracy.

Whether or not it destabilises the country, the whole affair is sure to dominate Armenian politics for some time to come - that in itself is bad news, given the crucial stage at which peace negotiations with Azerbaijan over Nagorno Karabakh are currently poised.

Will it strengthen or weaken the position of the Armenian President, Robert Kocharian?

I suppose it will strengthen his position - at least in the short term.

The murdered prime minister and parliamentary speaker were both powerful men - perhaps even more powerful than Mr Kocharian.

Mr Kocharian may well win some extra public support for the way he handled the crisis - negotiating with the gunmen and resolving the crisis peacefully.

A key question will be how the Armenian military responds. The murdered PM enjoyed strong control over the military - they may be looking for ways to regain any lost influence.

What effect will it have on Armenia's relations with its neighbours, and with Russia?

Again, this depends to some extent whether the gunmen were linked to any other forces.

Russia has close ties to Armenia, but some diplomats believe elements in Russia may be worried about the possibility that Yerevan and Azerbaijan could be close to reaching a deal over Nagorno Karabakh.

A lasting settlement would weaken Moscow's influence in the region, and its control, for instance, over oil pipeline routes from the Caspian basin. As for the effect on Azerbaijan - as I mentioned above the shooting in Yerevan could well delay any peace deal.

That's a disappointment, and a worry, particularly given fears that the Azeri president, Heydar Aliyev, may not be around for much longer.

Is the shooting a sign that law and order in the Caucasus is out of control?

Yes, the Caucasus is a turbulent, violent region.

But I don't think it's fair to draw too many broad conclusions from one tragic incident. Questions do need to be asked about security at the parliament in Yerevan.

To what extent is Armenian politics ruled by mafia-style gangs?

Certainly, politics in Armenia, like anywhere in the former Soviet Union - and most other places in the world - is dominated by clannish personal and party loyalties.

Corruption is clearly a major problem too. But again it's hard to draw too many conclusions from one event - particularly at this early stage.

How will Armenia remember the prime minister and the speaker of parliament?

The speaker was well known as the man who ruled Armenia during the late Soviet period.

He had a fair amount of public support, not unlike, perhaps, someone like Yevgeny Primakov in Russia.

The prime minister may well be best remembered for his role in the Nagorno Karabakh war, and his position as defence minister.

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