Ex-Armenian presidential candidate on trial over hit

A former presidential candidate went on trial Tuesday in Yerevan accused of masterminding a gun attack on one of his rivals during the runup to Armenian leadership polls in February.

Vardan Sedrakyan -- an obscure figure with no political background -- faces a charge of "attempted murder of a government, political or social figure" in connection with the attack against presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan.

Sedrakyan, who was arrested in early March, has consistently denied the charges which could see him face life imprisonment if found guilty.

Armenia's incumbent President Serzh Sarkisian celebrated a crushing victory in February 18 elections that were undermined by the mysterious attempt to assassinate Hayrikyan, a Soviet-era dissident.

Hayrikyan, who heads the Union for National Self-Determination, was shot in the upper chest in central Yerevan as he was heading home on January 31.

Doubts over whether the vote would take place as scheduled were raised when Hayrikyan -- who is currently receiving treatment abroad-- asked authorities to postpone the poll by two weeks as Armenian law allows if a candidate is deemed to have suffered an insurmountable obstacle.

But he later withdrew his demand.

Two other men, who confessed to the attack on the 63-year-old veteran after being arrested in February, are standing trial alongside Sedrakyan.

Observers from the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly said the election was an improvement on past polls but lacked real competition after two leading candidates pulled out late last year.

Neither Hayrikyan nor Sedrakyan -- who describes himself as a "specialist in epic poetry" -- managed double-digit scores.

The trial was suspended shortly after it started before any of the suspects were able to take a plea in court.