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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK

World: Europe

Killers lacked coherent goals

Sarkisian, right, with US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, left, and President Kocharian hours before the shooting

By News Online's Eurasia analyst Stephen Mulvey

The gunmen who shot dead eight leading Armenian politicians were not affiliated to any known political group, and had no coherent political platform.

A member of parliament who took part in overnight negotiations, Amayak Oganessian, said: "They themselves don't know what they want; we've asked them what they wanted, and in return they asked for our advice."

Their main concern during the talks was for their own personal safety.

In comments to journalists they said they wanted to punish the government for the country's miserable standard of living.

"The country is in a catastrophic situation. People are hungry and the government doesn't offer any way out," the gunmen's leader, Nairi Unanian told a local television station.

In a televised statement broadcast shortly before his surrender he also complained about corrupt officials, who, he said, were robbing the country.

Independence brings problems

These are familiar complaints throughout the countries of the former Soviet Union, where independence has often been accompanied by economic and social disintegration - increasing poverty, unemployment and crime rates being merely the most visible sign of thousands of private tragedies.

In many of these countries despair has caused suicide rates to soar, but only rarely has public anger towards politicians resulted in physical violence, without first being harnessed by a party or movement with concrete political goals.

Even more often, shootings that at first sight appear to be political are connected with the criminal business underworld. Money and political power are closely linked through a system of semi-criminal clans, whose clashes typically result in contract killings.

No alternative

But these killings have nothing in common with the events in the Armenian parliament, where a handful of armed men embarked on a wild escapade, killing several politicians seemingly at random.

Mr Unanian said the Prime Minister, Vazgen Sarkisian, was the only intended victim.

It remains a mystery how the gunmen thought their action would serve to put an end to hunger, and improve living standards in Armenia.

It's hard to believe that they were naive enough to think that their action would trigger a popular revolt, as Mr Unanian told an Armenian television station.

While clearly wanting a change of government, he does not seem to have suggested an alternative prime minister.

In practice, it's likely that Mr Sarkisian's successor will be another member of the Unity electoral alliance that brought him to power after elections in May. In other words, government policies are likely to continue unchanged.

For Armenians it may be that the most difficult thing to accept about this tragedy is its pure senselessness.

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