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Armenia: Thousands Rally For Opposition Presidential Contender

Yerevan, 21 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Tens of thousands of people marched through the Armenian capital Yerevan today in support of opposition presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian, who is due to face incumbent Robert Kocharian (pictured) in a run-off election on 5 March. The protesters gathered outside the office of Armenia's prosecutor-general to demand criminal proceedings against those they claim are guilty of fraud they say marred the 19 February presidential election.

Addressing the crowd before the march, Demirchian and his political allies again claimed victory in the first round of voting. They demanded that the Central Election Commission promptly recount the ballots and rectify reported discrepancies in its figures which the opposition claims benefited Kocharian. The commission has not yet published the final results of the first round.

According to preliminary results, Kocharian won just under 50 percent of the vote, failing to top the threshold required for an outright win. Demirchian was put in second place with about 28 percent.

International observers from the OSCE and the Council of Europe have called the vote "flawed."