YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — A longshot candidate for the Armenian presidency was shot in the chest by an unidentified gunman late Thursday, officials said. He was hospitalized in stable condition as police searched for the shooter, while the speaker of parliament suggested the election could be delayed.
Paruir Airikian was shot outside his house in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, just before midnight. A neighbor who heard gunshots and cries for help called the police.
Airikian is one of eight candidates in the Feb. 18 presidential vote, which incumbent Serge Sarkisian is expected to easily win. Opinion surveys show Airikian getting a small percentage of the vote.
The Yerevan Clinical Hospital’s chief doctor, Ara Minasian, confirmed that the 63-year-old Airikian was being treated for one gunshot wound and remained in stable condition.
Armenian parliament speaker Ovik Abramian, who visited Airikian at the hospital, said the attack on the candidate could be aimed at thwarting the election. He said the vote could be postponed, but the nation’s election chief refused to comment on the possibility.
The Armenian presidency is an important position with broad executive powers, and the campaign for the job has been marked by much tension. Airikian, a Soviet-era dissident, briefly joined a hunger strike by another candidate over procedural issues related to the vote.
This landlocked, overwhelmingly Christian nation of 3 million has faced severe economic challenges caused by the closing of its borders with Turkey and Azerbaijan in the wake of a territorial conflict.
The Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan and some adjacent territory has been under the control of Armenian troops and local ethnic Armenian forces since a six-year war ended with a truce in 1994. But international efforts to mediate a settlement have brought no result.