Opposition Threatens Force Ignoring Calls for Stability

YEREVAN (Combined Sources)–Armenian President Robert Kocharian on Saturday called on opposition leaders to work together with the government to secure political stability in Armenia and prevent an extremely dangerous situation.

"We will react resolutely to any attempts to destabilize the country," Kocharian said in a nationally televised speech. He pledged to exert utmost efforts to stabilize the situation in Armenia.

Kocharian described the opposition-organized rallies and recent turbulence in the country as a tactical mistake of the opposition parties–warning that if the opposition goes beyond the constitutional limits in its activities–the government has the right to use force to restore order. He cited several instances of pressure and intimidation from the opposition on election commission members on the evening of February 19–adding that apposition proxies were engaged in vote rigging.

Kocharian–48–faces a run-off scheduled for March 5 after he failed to garner a simple majority of the vote needed for his re-election–in Wednesday’s first round of presidential race.

Kocharian–who has been ruling the landlocked Central Asian country of 3.2 million people since 1998–gained 49.8 percent of the vote in the first round. Stepan Demirchian–leader of the People’s Party–came out second with a 28.3 percent support.

But the election has been disputed by the opposition–which deman’s the Central Election Commission and the government declare Demirchian the winner.

Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters demonstrated on Friday in the Armenian capital Yerevan demanding Kocharian’s resignation and threatening to take over the presidency by force if the government refuses to recognize Demirchian as the president-elect.

Yerevan mayor Robert Nazaryan said his office did not authorize the rally and accused the protesters of disturbing public order. He stressed that the opposition had not asked the Mayor’s Office for permission to stage a rally and organizers thus far have violated conditions for holding demonstrations in that they have been accompanied by disturbances.

Dozens of people were arrested during the protest rally for breaching public security ordinances.

Some politicians–like Aram Z. Sargsyan called openly for the president to quit.

"We are calling for Robert Kocharian to resign. There are no other options," he told the gathering. "We will run a second and even a third round ourselves–but let Kocharian leave."

President Kocharian’s press secretary Vahagn Gabrielyan advised the opposition "not to cherish hopes" that Kocharian would resign–in response Sarkisyan’s pledges to "go to the president’s residence and seize power." if the CEC did not "declare Stepan Demirchian winner of the elections."

Protesters then marched through the city–some pausing at police headquarters to hurl insults.

SEEKING STABILITY

The Defense Ministry called on the opposition to refrain from attempts that are "fraught with unpredictable consequences," and only seek to destabilize the domestic situation–and jeopardize constitutional order. It stated that the armed forces could not assume a passive role if the security of the country’s borders are endangered–saying "the war has not finished yet"–referred to the conflict with Azerbaijan over the region of Nagorno-Karabagh–where a truce has been in place since 1994.

Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian during a televised interview said that the actions of the Armenian opposition cast a shadow on all the positive achievemen’s reached during the last years.

He said the opposition’s behavior can be considered nothing but destabilization of the situation. "Leaders of the opposition can be aware that they should not play on the stability of the country–more so because opponents of the incumbent president do not even total 1/3 of the population."

Oskanian pointed out that the opposition should not consider the people simpletons–insisting on the victory in the election by 27 or 28 percent of votes.

"I am aware that the considerable part of the population is dissatisfied–as they are on the verge of poverty. And the incumbent president is also aware that. However expressing dissatisfaction this way is not right. I hope that the opposition leaders will sober up and will take the right course to solve the current situation–and the president of Armenia will be elected by way of an election process," he summed up.

Referring to the present situation–the leader of Ramgavar Azadagan (Democratic Liberal) party of Armenia Rouben Mirzakhanian said that some politicians are interested in destabilizing the situation in Armenia. "These efforts are very dangerous and unacceptable and we will struggle against them–because such a position–and irresponsible statemen’s may result in incitement of one sector of population against another. Such situations may influence the stability and security of Armenia–economic–social development of our country and the process of Karabaghi conflict’s regulation."

The deputy chairman of Orinats Yerkir party Mher Shahgeldian said statemen’s claiming the elections are not legitimate and that Stepan Demirchian has collected 70 percent of votes are groundless and deprived of logic. He said that the threats–calls to unseat the leadership by force heard during the mass-meetings held by opposition are illegal and unacceptable–and informed that during and after the polls–threats were addressed to the members of Orinats Yerkir party.

WILL ARMENIA SEE ITS FIRST PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE?

President Robert Kocharian invited Stepan Demirchian on Monday to an unprecedented live televised debate–saying that a civilized face to face debate is necessary before the March 5th run-off .

Kocharian campaign spokesman Mkrtchian told RFE/RL that the two men could alternatively send their top aides. He said the incumbent is ready for a live discussion on any major television channel.

Demirchian had initially rejected the idea–demanding that the authorities first release his arrested supporters. But he indicated on Sunday a shift in his position–telling reporters that a debate before TV cameras would only "accelerate Kocharian’s defeat."

So far–Demirchian has rejected interview requests from Armenian Public Television (APT)–apparently fearing that the channel is bent on embarrassing him and is seeking to portray him as an immature politician who is highly dependent on his more radical entourage.

OPPOSITION MESSAGE

During mass meetings organized by the election headquarters of Stepan Demirchian–opposition leaders denounced the necessity of a run-off election and demanded that the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) recognize their candidate as the winner of presidential race–threatening to take power by force. Vazgen Manukian–Aram Sargsian–Aram Karapetian and Ruben Avagian announced their support to Demirchian.

Aram Harutunian–one of the nine opposition candidates in the February 19 polls–said he would not endorse the only remaining opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian in the March 5 run off.

Harutunian–the chairman of the National Accord party–said today his decision is based on ideological differences with the opposition candidate Stepan Demirchian People’s Party of Armenia.

Harutunian did not say weather his party would support incumbent Kocharian–saying the party’s ruling board would have to decide. He called on both candidates and forces supporting them to stay away from tactics that may destabilize the situation and urged all to exhibit restraint and tolerance.

A leading candidate eliminated from Armenia’s presidential race denounced the first round vote as fraudulent on Monday and said he would not be backing either of the finalists in protest.

Artashes Geghamyan–who was third in the opening round with 17 percent support–declined to offer his support to either Kocharian or the president’s rival in the March 5 run-off. He said doing so would amount to legitimizing the election. Presidential Election run-off March 5–2003 The Armenian Central Electoral Commission has mandated that the second round of the election for the President of Armenia will be held on March 5–2003. The CEC’s February 20–2003 decision to hold a run-off election is in accordance with Articles 83 and 85 of the Electoral Code of the Republic of Armenia.

The authority of election monitors has been extended from March 5–to March 15.

It also has approved the order of providing free and paid air time for the two candidates during the election campaign that is to start February 26 and run until March 3 midnight.

CANDIDATES

Two presidential candidates will be on the ballot during the second round of elections: Stepan Karen Demirchian–nominated by the People’s Party of Armenia–and Robert Sedrak Kocharian–nominated by civil initiative. Voters can obtain information about the candidates by visiting electoral precincts prior to the election day.

Campaigning for the second round will start February 26 and will end a day prior to the election date.

WHERE TO VOTE: ELECTORAL PRECINCTS

The voting will take at the same polling stations as on February 19–2003. Four electoral precincts have been established in the United States to allow the citizens of the Republic of Armenia residing in the United States on temporary or permanent basis to cast their ballots in the Presidential election:

-Permanent Mission of the Republic of Armenia to the United Nations–119 East 36th Street–New York–NY 10016

-Embassy of the Republic of Armenia to the United States–2225 R Street–NW–Washington–DC 20008

-Consulate General of the Republic of Armenia–50 North La Cienega Boulevard–Suite 210–Beverly Hills–CA 90211

-Armenian Society of Los Angeles–221 South Brand Boulevard–Glendale–CA 91204

VOTER REGISTRATION

Armenian citizens who have registered to vote at any of the precincts on or before February 19–2003 or voted during the first round of elections do not need to register again. The citizens of the Republic of Armenia who are eligible to vote–and have not registered or voted on February 19–2003–need to register for the second round of the election at one of the Armenian diplomatic missions in the United States–depending on their residency/geographic location: Permanent Mission of Armenia to the UN–New York City; Embassy of Armenia to the US–Washington–DC; Armenian Consulate Genera–Los Angeles.

Voter Registration forms can be obtained from one of the above diplomatic missions–or online at the Embassy of Armenia website: http://www.armeniaemb.org" Completed Voter Registration forms can be submitted in person–by fax–or mail–and cannot be submitted by telephone. Citizens who will have registered to vote on or before March 3–2003–will be included in the main voters list; citizens who register on March 4-5–2003–will be included in the supplementary voter list.

VOTING PROCEDURE ON ELECTION DAY

On election day–March 5–voters can vote between the local hours of 8 am and 8 pm (8:00 – 20:00) at the precinct where they are registered to vote by appearing in person and presenting their passports. Armenian citizens residing in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area can vote at any of the two precincts established there. Voter lists for both Los Angeles precincts will be uniform and will be posted at both precincts. but Voter Registration forms need to be submitted to the Consulate General.

For further inquiries about the Presidential election–or to request a Voter Registration– contact the Armenian diplomatic missions:

– Permanent Mission in NY: Tel. 212-686-9079 email:Armenia@un.int

– Embassy of Armenia in Washington Tel. 202-319-1976–202-319-2983 email: armconsul@speakeasy.net

– Consulate General in Los Angeles Tel. 310-657-6102 emal:armconla@aol.com

The diplomatic and consular missions of the Republic of Armenia in the United States call on all the Armenian citizens residing in the United States to fulfill their civic and constitutional duty by voting in the second round of the Presidential election of the Republic of Armenia on March 5–2003.

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