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Armenia: Opposition Accuses President Of Rigging Election


Yerevan, 19 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The main opposition candidates in Armenia's presidential election have accused incumbent President Robert Kocharian of rigging today's presidential election. Eight candidates are challenging Kocharian for the country's top post. Some 200 observers are monitoring the election.

In a joint statement signed three hours before polls closed, four candidates, including top challenger Stepan Demirchian, charged that the vote may have already been marred by serious irregularities.

Throughout the day opposition candidates have claimed that ballot boxes were being stuffed, votes were being bought, and authorities were intimidating opposition supporters across the country. There was no response to these charges from either Kocharian or Armenia's Central Election Commission.

By 4:30 p.m. local time (1:30 p.m. Prague time) about 43 percent of eligible voters in the country had cast their ballots. Polls closed at 8.p.m. local time.

After casting his ballot in Yerevan, Kocharian said he hoped the election would bring the people of Armenia five years of normal and stable life.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian predicted Kocharian will gain the simple majority required to win outright in the first round of polling.

But leading opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian has insisted it is "realistic" to believe he may win in the first round instead. Another major opposition contender, Artashes Geghamian, likewise predicted a defeat for the current Armenian leader.

There is no requirement for voter participation, but to be declared the winner a candidate must have more than 50 percent of the votes.

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