Demirel Says Election Winner to Calm Tension

ANKARA (Reuters)–Turkish President Suleyman Demirel urged the winner of next week’s Armenian presidential election to calm tensions in the volatile Caucasus–the Anatolian news agency reported on Thursday.

"If the new Armenian president acts with cold blood and is wise he will not spark the fire…That’s when he will gain backing from Turkey," the agency quoted Demirel as saying late on Wednesday. The election on March 16 will determine a successor to Levon Ter-Petrosyan–who resigned last month under pressure from opponents furious at concessions to neighboring Azerbaijan in the conflict over the region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Karabakh is nominally administered by Azerbaijan but populated overwhelmingly by Armenia’s seeking independence or union with Armenia.

Turkey–which has close ethnic links with Azerbaijan–has shut its border with Armenia and cut trade relations due to the dispute between the two neighboring former Soviet republics. The issue is strategically important in the light of multi-billion dollar projects to develop oilfields in the Caspian Sea off Azerbaijan.

Acting President and Prime Minister Robert Kocharian is one of the top contenders among the 12 candidates in the presidential race.

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