Kocharian Claims Major Success During Hundred Days in Power

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian said a "clearer" position on Nagorno-Karabakh–the easing of a long-running internal political standoff and rapid economic growth have been the main results of his hundred days as head of state. Kocharian told a jubilee news conference in Yerevan on Wednesday that political stability and "popular trust" will allow him to achieve a major improvement of the social and economic situation in Armenia within two to three years.

Kocharian said Armenia’s tougher stance on settling the decade-long Nagorno-Karabakh conflict has received a more favorable reaction than expected from the international community–as Yerevan has succeeded in showing that it is "constructive."

"Our position on the issue is not harder than Azerbaijan’s," he argued. A tougher Armenian stand in the conflict–favored by Kocharian and key government ministers–was the main factor precipitating the resignation in February of President Levon Ter-Petrosyan–who accepted an internationally-sponsored peace plan that called for Nagorno-Karabakh’s broad autonomy within Azerbaijan.

Kocharian–who won the presidential election last March–has since demanded that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe present a new comprehensive plan that would rule out the Karabakh’s "subordination" to Baku and allow it to maintain a land corridor with Armenia proper. Kocharian–who comes from Nagorno-Karabakh–headed the disputed region from 1992 to 1997 and led it to victory in the war with Azerbaijan.

Kocharian on Wednesday again dismissed claims by Ter-Petrosyan supporters that the rejection of more concessions to Azerbaijan will lead Armenia to international isolation.

He argued–in particular–that no obstacles except the abolition of the death penalty remain to Armenia’s full membership in the Council of Europe.

"There are no longer banned political prisoners and parties in Armenia," Kocharian said proudly. In his words–the creation of a presidential council comprising the country’s major political groups will help defuse tension before the next parliamentary elections due in summer 1999.

Turning to economic matters–the Armenian leader said 6.7 percent growth has been registered in the first half of the year with exports up 31 percent and imports down 0.4 percent.

According to him–direct foreign investmen’s in the Armenian economy have reached $140 million–eight times more than during the same period last year. Kocharian said his government is creating grounds for higher living standards–which most Armenia’s will enjoy "in two or three years."

Kocharian also said he is in good physical form despite a 13-hour working day–and works out in a gym twice a week. "These hundred days have been the most interesting in my life," he concluded.

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