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Armenia: Acting President Holds First Cabinet Meeting

Yerevan, 4 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - Armenia's acting president, Prime Minister Robert Kocharian, said today that an early presidential election will be free and fair. The government press service says that Kocharian met Cabinet ministers today, his first day in office, and said the election should "consolidate" forces in the country rather than "polarize" the country. The Constitution provides for an early presidential election within 40 days of the Parliament accepting a president's resignation. It is not yet clear if Kocharian qualifies as a candidate. The Constitution requires the president to be a citizen of Armenia. Kocharian comes from Nagorno-Karabakh, which is regarded by the international community as part of Azerbaijan.

Kocharian today also met the country's top bankers, and assured them he will continue economic reform, creating what he called "normal conditions" for the business community.

Kocharian became acting resident today after Parliament overwhelmingly voted to accept yesterday's resignation of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan. Ter Petrosyan resigned, bowing to demands by his opponents, led by Kocharian.

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.

Russia's President Boris Yeltsin today expressed regret over Ter-Petrosyan's resignation and called for policies of mutual cooperation with the new Armenian cabinet. Neighboring Azerbaijan convened an emergency session of its Security Council. After the session President Heydar Aliyev again called for a peaceful solution to the row over Nagorno-Karabakh.

See related story: Armenia: President's Resignation Leads To Political Crisis