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Council Of Europe Reports 'Abuses' In Armenian Poll

Press conference of the Council of Europe's observation mission (RFE/RL) 28 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The Council of Europe says Armenia's referendum yesterday on constitutional changes was marred by "serious abuses."

The council, which helped draft the proposed amendments, said its 14 observers witnessed instances of fraud, secrecy, and the stuffing of ballot boxes. It said the abuse put in doubt the "credibility" of the vote.

Armenia's election commission said more than 93 percent of those who voted approved the amendments, which include changes on the division of government powers. Voter participation was reported at 65 percent.

But opposition politicians said turnout was far lower. Vazgen Manukian of the National Democratic Union accused officials of rigging the vote.

"Two unprecedented things in my memory happened in Armenia today. Both were expected, but both were unprecedented. Never before had polling stations been so empty," Manukian said. "The authorities also showed impudent cynicism in the way they rigged the elections. In previous years we never experienced such blatant cynicism. In my opinion it is a national, state- level betrayal."

Government officials have defended the results of the referendum.

(With agencies)

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