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Armenia: Coalition Government Takes Shape As Protests Continue

Serzh Sarkisian (epa) The olive branch President-elect Serzh Sarkisian extended to opposition members this week appears to have borne fruit.

Artur Baghdasarian, who finished third in Armenia's recent presidential election, has taken Sarkisian up on his offer to participate in a coalition government.

While other members of his Orinats Yerkir party have attended and even addressed ongoing rallies against the outcome of the February 19 vote, Baghdasarian chose to stay away while also decrying the election as deeply flawed.

But with his announcement on February 29 that he intends to take up the post of Security Council secretary in the next government came a clear reversal.

"In the presidential elections of 2008, 1,100,000 people are standing behind the result of our political agreement, which is around 70 percent of the voters," Baghdasarian said.

Sarkisian, in turn, was equally cordial toward his former opponent-turned-political partner. "I think this [appointment] will give full opportunity to Mr. Baghdasarian to engage fully to the system of governance of our country, fully participate in the process of development of our country," he said.

Despite the apparent boost Baghdasarian's decision will give to Sarkisian's efforts to gain acceptance for his first-round victory, second-place finisher Levon Ter-Petrossian is unlikely to drop his protest against the result.

On February 28, the former president -- who insists election fraud prevented him from scoring a first-round victory -- told his supporters that "the fate of democracy in Armenia is in the hands of the West." He said Western election observers should choose between supporting the Armenian people, or a "rotten, kleptocratic regime."

The election-observer mission of the Organization For Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in its initial assessment declared the election "mostly in line" with Armenia's international commitments, while also noting the need for "further improvements."

The vote-counting process was assessed negatively at about 16 percent of the polling stations visited by observers from the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The elections have been endorsed by the European Union and the U.S. State Department has congratulated the Armenian people on an "active" and "competitive" election.

On February 28, the U.S. Mission to the OSCE issued a statement noting ODIHR's assessment of the vote, but also expressing concern over problems cited in the election-observer mission's initial report and "certain steps taken by the authorities in the post-election period."

The Armenian authorities have warned that their patience with the protests in central Yerevan is running out, and have alleged that those behind the rallies plan to seize power illegally. There is large police presence in the center of the capital, and government buildings and embassies remain cordoned off.

Several prominent opposition figures close to Ter-Petrossian have been arrested. At least six have been placed in pretrial custody on a string of criminal charges, including illegal arms possession and assault.

On February 27, Ter-Petrossian met in Yerevan with the EU special ambassador to the South Caucasus, Peter Semneby, and told him that he intends to "fight to the end," but also to act exclusively within the framework of the constitution and law.

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