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Armenia: Thousands Defy Government Ban To Rally For Opposition

Yerevan, 23 February 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Tens of thousands of people demonstrated again today in the Armenian capital Yerevan in support of the main opposition candidate in the Armenian presidential race. The opposition supporters demanded the release of dozens of opposition activists arrested in the wake of the previous rally on 21 February.

The opposition candidate, Stepan Demirchian, is due to face incumbent Robert Kocharian in the 5 March run-off. Demirchian, today again called the 21 February arrests "illegal" and accused authorities of manipulating the 19 February first round of voting.

The protest took place despite a ban by the city authorities. President Robert Kocharian, yesterday accused the opposition of disrupting "public order" and threatened to take "very serious and strict" measures against its leaders.

According to preliminary results, Kocharian fell just short of the 50 percent required to win outright. Demirchian won about 28 percent, but claims the did much better.