"Daring Changes" Ahead Declares Sargsyan While Addressing Nation

"DARING CHANGES" AHEAD DECLARES PRESIDENT SARGSYAN WHILE ADDRESSING THE
NATION

Gibrahayer

Friday, October 3, 2008 – YEREVAN – In a 40 minute speech before the
nation, President Serzh Sargsyan stood at the speaker’s podium in the
National Assembly Thursday evening and presented his administration’s
intention to implement `daring changes’ to drastically raise Armenia’s
competitiveness as it faces a new era of `serious geopolitical and
regional changes.’

Addressing the republic’s top leadership, including the Cabinet of
Ministers and the Prime Minister, the chairman of Constitutional Court,
the secretary of the National Security Council, the chairman of the
Central Bank, Armenia’s human rights Ombudsman and others, President
Sargsyan spoke of problems facing the Armenian state and society today
and called for drastic changes to face up to the challenges of the
modern world.

Threats and Challenges

The Russian-Georgian conflict in August sent shockwaves throughout the
region. The conflict shattered the territorial integrity of the
Georgian state, raised fears over the security of oil and money flowing
from Caspian ports in Baku to their Mediterranean counterparts in
Turkey, and jolted landlocked Armenia to the reality that over 70
percent of its trade goes through Georgian ports.

The reassertion of Russian power in the Caucasus and Turkey’s rapid
push to establish a Caucasus platform to manage relation
s in the region
has caused a diplomatic frenzy and a series of bi-lateral meetings
between leaders from different countries in the region.

Meanwhile, a trilateral meeting between the foreign ministers of
Armenia, Turkey and Azerbaijan on sidelines of the UN General Assembly
late last month is now raising the specter of a possible move by the
three countries to try and normalize relations, open the borders, and
resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.

Sargsyan said that the events in South Ossetia and the ensuing war in
Georgia had `a sobering effect’ on many in the region. `Let’s look
around; the foreign threats have not subsided.’

`Our republic is entering a new phase of its history, Sargsyan said.
`In this new period we witness serious geopolitical and regional
changes. A war in our neighborhood, closed borders, problems of
external communication, regional relations getting complicated, and a
clash of superpowers’ interests.’

This is the reality Armenia finds itself in today, he stressed.

Under these new circumstances, Armenia must exclude `any possibility of
stagnation in any sphere,’ he said.

`But have we completely sobered up after the latest events?’ he asked,
noting that he sometimes gets an impression that Armenian society
criticizes problems but remains a mere spectator to them.

`Today, it is more than obvious that we need not only to20make a clear,
pragmatic, non-emotional and adequate evaluation of the situation, but
also make consistent steps to pursue far-reaching goals,’ Sargsyan
said. `We need stability in the country, unification of strength and
opportunities, new approaches and solutions.’

He spoke of the current malaise in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict
settlement process, highlighting the harsh reality that a state of war
hampering Armenia’s possibilities, continues to exist in the region.

`The war has not ended as long as there is an arms race,’ Sargsyan
said, talking about Azerbaijan’s oil-funded military buildup. `The war
will not be over, until the arms race comes to an end, until we all
congratulate the Presidents of Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh for
their willful decision and peaceful resolution of the conflict.’

A Competitive Economy

During his speech, which focused largely on Armenia’s economic
development, Sargsyan’s promised to make the Armenian economy more
competitive and ensure fair business competition. He said the economic
situation in the country will also improve as a result of large-scale
projects.

He singled out three initiatives that he said will be in the center of
the government’s attention in the years to come. Among them is the
launch of construction, in the coming months, of a new nuclear plant in
place of the aging Soviet-era facility at Metsamor; the start of
constructi
on on a railway linking Iran and Armenia; and the
establishment of an all-Armenian bank and an investment foundation to
fund large-scale economic projects.

`The time has come for Armenia to implement large and daring
initiatives,’ Sargsyan exclaimed, adding that such programs not only
solve important strategic issues, but also have a broad influence on
the economy and the society, creating thousands of new jobs, opening
new markets and encouraging the development new enterprises.

`Construction of the Iran-Armenia gas pipeline is the best proof of the
fact that even the most daring objectives can become reality in our
country due to consistent work and confidence in our abilities,’ he
assured.

`Today we can state the fact that over the years our country has
learned to stand firm on its feet even under the most unfriendly
environment,’ Sargsyan said. `In a short period of time we should
essentially raise the global competitiveness of Armenia. We should be
able to raise the competitiveness of branches of our economy–our
companies, our whole economy and human resources. We must be
competitive and the advancement of Armenia should be our supreme
objective.’

A Fight Against Corruption

Sargsyan promised to meet the coming challenges by transforming Armenia
into a rule-of-law country with a competitive economy, independent
judiciary and equal opportunities for all citizens.

The president called on the lawmakers gathered in the National Assembly
to help him `build a society of resourceful and competitive individuals
where there is no place for corruption, where corruption is simply not
beneficial and illogical.’

`We will criminalize any manifestation of corruption. We will create a
culture of absolute public intolerance towards corruption,’ he added.

`The fight against corruption will change its face,’ he said. `We will
switch to tougher and more uncompromising methods and a system of
international standards.’

`The level of identifying and prosecuting abuse of power will rise
irreversibly,’ he said, promising high-profile prosecutions of corrupt
officials.

He argued that the existence of an independent judiciary is also vital
for strengthening the rule of law. `We must be able to put in place an
independent judiciary based on the supremacy of law,’ he said.

Sargsyan stressed the importance of public support for this endeavor
but made no mention of the lingering political crisis triggered by last
February’s disputed presidential election. His sole reference to the
tense domestic political situation was an appeal to pro-government and
opposition parties and media to stop offending each other in public.

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