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Armenia: President Leads In Early Election Returns

Yerevan, 23 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Incumbent Levon Ter-Petrosyan is leading in early returns from yesterday's presidential election, says Khachatur Bezirjian, the chairman of Armenia's electoral commission.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Yerevan reports that Bezirjian, a member of Ter-Petrosyan's ruling party, released results from some districts and announced that the president is running "noticeably ahead" of his closest challenger, former Prime Minister Vazgen Manukyan.

Earlier, the election commission announced that with about ten percent of ballots counted, Ter-Petrosyan was leading with about 56 percent of the vote to 35 percent. The commission said the returns did not include the capital, Yerevan, which contains 40 percent of the registered voters and where Manukyan is expected to run strong.

Ter-Husik Lazarian, the chairman of Ter-Petrosyan's ruling Pan Armenian National Movement, told a news conference he believes the incumbent will win with about 55 percent when all votes are counted. A candidate needs more than 50 percent to avoid a run-off.

Aides to Manukyan disputed the claim, saying that their candidate had won by a comfortable margin. They also charged that the government is rigging official vote results coming in from outlying districts. Our correspondent reports that the opposition held a rally in Yerevan at noon and had called for another gathering this evening.

Foreign election observers have delayed a news conference planned for today to report on the conduct of voting. They now say they will meet with reporters tomorrow.