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Armenia: International Observers Criticize Presidential Runoff

Yerevan, 6 March 2003 -- International observers have strongly criticized yesterday's second round of the Armenian presidential election, which, according to official results, gave a landslide victory to incumbent President Robert Kocharian.

A joint monitoring mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) concluded in a report today that the runoff "fell short of international standards."

Peter Eicher, the American head of the OSCE observers, told reporters in Yerevan that they found "serious irregularities" in the voting and counting processes, including "widespread instances" of ballot-box stuffing around Armenia.

Lord Russell Johnston, a senior lawmaker representing PACE, likewise said that he is "disappointed" with the way the Armenian authorities' conducted the ballot.

But the two men declined to comment on whether the reported irregularities affected the official outcome of the vote, which shows Kocharian winning about 67 percent. His opposition challenger, Stepan Demirchian, received only 32 percent.

The Demirchian campaign rejected the official figures as fraudulent shortly after the Central Election Commission began publishing them last night.

In a statement issued earlier this week, the secretary-general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, warned Yerevan that the runoff should mark a major improvement over the first round of voting on 19 February, which was also criticized by the observer mission. Johnston, however, said today that the handling of yesterday's vote was "very similar to the first round."