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Opposition Protests Armenian Election Results - 2003-03-06


Election officials in Armenia say President Robert Kocharian has won a second five-year term in Wednesday's run-off election. But, the opposition says it will protest the results.

Armenia's Central Election Commission announced Thursday that incumbent Robert Kocharian won nearly 70 percent of the vote for president.

The opposition immediately cried foul, as it did after the first round of voting.

President Kocharian's aides deny the accusations. The Associated Press quotes Armenia's foreign minister as saying the government did its best to ensure a free and fair vote. "Armenia needs the trust of the international community," the president said.

But late Thursday, Western election monitors backed up the opposition's claims, reporting serious irregularities, such as widespread ballot box stuffing.

The Council of Europe warned earlier this week that Armenia must stage a clean election, or give up its claim to be a democratic state.

After the first round of elections in February, the opposition claimed the vote was rigged, and called tens of thousands of protesters into the streets of Armenia's capital, Yerevan.

The key task facing President Kocharian in his second term will be to work out a peace deal to settle Armenia's 14-year conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh.

The two countries fought a war over the mainly ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. The two countries have since declared a cease-fire, but tensions remain high.

President Kocharian, a native of Karabakh, has pledged to continue economic reform, and resolve the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh. But for the short term, Mr. Kocharian appears likely to be addressing electoral charges raised by the political opposition.

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