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Incumbent President Leads in Armenia Vote

February 20, 2003|From Times Wire Services

YEREVAN, Armenia — Armenian President Robert Kocharyan took the lead in early presidential election returns, officials said today.

Unofficial results from some of the regions outside Yerevan, the capital, showed Kocharyan with at least 50% of the vote in some of those areas, according to the election commission. The commission didn't say what percentage of the vote had been counted. The winner must get at least 50% of the total to prevent a runoff, and Kocharyan was expected to do so.

People's Party leader Stepan Demirchian and National Unity Party leader Artashes Gegamian were making the best showings among the eight challengers.

The election is seen as a key test of democracy in this former Soviet republic located in the Caucasus region. Armenians hope it will lead to higher living standards and a settlement of the conflict with Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Backed by Armenia, Nagorno-Karabakh forces fought a 1988-94 war with Azerbaijan. Despite a cease-fire, the dispute remains unresolved.

Transparent ballot boxes were used in an effort to prevent fraud, and election officials said no major violations were reported.

But hours after the polls closed, four of the main opposition candidates alleged that there had been mass violations of electoral procedures.

Demirchian and Gegamian joined two others in accusing Kocharyan of trying to hang on to power at all costs. Kocharyan's spokesman insisted that the vote was free and fair.

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