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Armenia: President Resigns; Prime Minister Assumes Office

By Mardo Soghom and Emil Danielyan

Yerevan, 4 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Robert Kocharian, Armenia's prime minister, today assumed the post of acting president after Parliament overwhelmingly voted to accept yesterday's resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Ter Petrosyan resigned after bowing to demands by his opponents, led by Kocharian.

Kocharian assumed presidential powers after Parliament Chairman Babken Ararktsian stepped down as president after briefly holding office. Ararktsian assumed the office, as required by the Constitution, but resigned because his party, the Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), lost its majority as dozens of its deputies defected to a rival faction which supports Kocharian.

The Constitution provides for early presidential elections within 40 days after the president's resignation.

Kocharian, backed up by key ministers, has been at odds with Ter-Petrosyan over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Ter-Petrosyan was criticized by opponents for what they saw as his conciliatory stand, and making too many concessions to Azerbaijan.

Kocharian was president of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh republic from 1992-to-1996 and led the disputed enclave's ethnic Armenian forces to decisive victories against Azerbaijan.

Kocharian was appointed Armenia's prime minister by Ter-Petrosyan in March, 1997.

The 53-year-old Ter-Petrosyan announced he was stepping down yesterday in a nationwide television broadcast. Ter-Petrosyan said his resignation represents a defeat for the parties of peace but that peace will eventually prevail.

The U.S. State Department, meanwhile, is calling for strict adherence to constitutional and democratic norms in Armenia. A spokeswoman said the U.S. hopes the political crisis will not halt the OSCE's peace talks on Nagorno-Karabakh.