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US, European Union, Send Envoys to Armenia

The United States and European Union have dispatched envoys to Armenia to try to help defuse the political crisis underway since disputed elections February 19. The Bush administration says both sides in the political conflict are responsible for restoring order after lethal weekend rioting. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The parallel action by the United States and European Union reflects deep concern about the political stability of Armenia, where clashes between security forces and election protesters Saturday killed eight people and left more than 130 others wounded.

The State Department says Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Matthew Bryza is enroute to the Armenian capital to join European Union diplomat Peter Semneby in an effort to restore political peace in Yerevan.

Armenia has been in political turmoil since the February 19 parliamentary election, which opposition leaders allege was rigged to favor incumbent Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisyan.

Neither side in the dispute has shown willingness to back down, with opposition leader and former president Levon Ter-Petrosian vowing continued protests and Mr. Sarkisyan promising to punish trouble-makers.

State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey says the Armenian parties have indicated they are ready to work with the envoys, whose aim will be to facilitate dialogue:

"Both sides have said they're willing to engage in a dialogue," he said. "Matt's [Bryza] purpose as well as the purpose of the European Union's representative is to try and see, through talking individually with both sides, if we can help stimulate that dialogue and move it forward. But I would not expect you to see Matt formally negotiating or offering proposals. This is really a facilitative role."

Casey said the United States supports neither a crackdown on protesters nor a resort to violence by demonstrators.

In a written statement late Saturday, the State Department expressed regret over the violence, appealed for restraint, and said both sides are responsible for helping re-establish order and political dialogue.

It urged the prompt lifting of the state of emergency declared by Prime Minister Sarkisyan and said Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Daniel Fried had made the same point in a telephone conversation with the senior Armenian official.