Armenian presidential candidate Paruyr Hayrikyan is wheeled by medical staff members at the hospital in Yerevan, February 1, 2013. Hayrikyan was wounded by unknown gunmen in the capital Yerevan on Thursday night, police said, in an attack that could delay February's election. REUTERS
YEREVAN: An Armenian presidential candidate was shot and wounded late Thursday by an unknown assailant in the capital Yerevan less than a month before election day, police said.
Paruyr Hayrikyan, head of the Union for National Self-Determination, was attacked in central Yerevan as he was heading home, said police spokesman Achot Agaronian.
He was taken to hospital after being hit in the upper chest area.
A criminal probe was swiftly launched to find the gunman, police said.
Prime Minister Tigran Sarkisian and other politicians visited the presidential candidate in hospital.
"The attempt is a blow to our state, to the state institutions," Tigran Sarkisian told journalists.
"I spoke with Paruyr Hayrikyan, the doctors say his condition is satisfactory," said Ovik Abraamian, speaker of the Armenian parliament.
"I am sure that whoever committed this crime and the forces behind them will not destabilise the situation," he added.
Abraamian said that, under the law, the upcoming presidential elections might be postponed for two weeks in case Hayrikyan is not able to continue his campaign.
The presidential election is due to take place on February 18, with incumbent Serzh Sarkisian expected to win.
The Armenian leader's governing Republican Party last year won parliamentary elections that strengthened his grip on power but highlighted problems with the ex-Soviet state's fragile democracy.
International observers criticised the 2012 vote, claiming a series of democratic failures.
The authorities have promised a fair vote this month, as they seek to avoid a repeat of the violent clashes between police and protesters after the disputed presidential election in 2008 that left 10 people dead.
Soviet-era dissident and veteran politician, Hayrikyan, 63, spent iseveral years in Soviet prisons as a prominent proponent of Armenia's independence from the Soviet Union. (AFP)