Kocharian Holds Press Conference on Elections

YEREVAN (Armenpress-Noyan Tapan-RFE/RL)–Meeting with reporters on Wednesday to summarize the outcome of the first round of presidential elections held on February 19–Armenia’s incumbent President Kocharian countered accusations that he exercised all available administrative resources in a bid to ensure his outright victory.

Citing the opposition’s accusations of fraud–Kocharian maintained that the elections instead demonstrated tolerance on behalf of the authorities who have chosen a path of democracy. "The authorities have offered the opposition a civilized way to compete–but the latter proved to be unprepared for it," he said.

He argued that the authorities could not bear complete responsibility for reported irregularities as the opposition–its proxies and members are represented in various-level election commissions and therefore had leverage to affect the electoral process.

Kocharian vowed that the authorities would not allow any violations in the March 5 run-off.

Addressing the "noise roused by the opposition" around election fraud–he cited that the opposition demanded 70 ballot boxes be recounted out of an overall 1,865. No serious deman’s were submitted concerning other polling precincts–and no claims were received concerning 42 out of 56 constituencies. Out of those 70 precincts only 14-15 were checked and only a difference in 100 votes was registered in favor of different candidates.

He stated that in Yerevan–where the bulk of complaints was received–only 58% of eligible voters participated in elections–an average of 1,000 per precinct. Even if 50% of votes had been rigged in favor of the president–that would have constituted mere 30,000 votes that were to be shared between the two candidates: Demirchian and Geghamian–and the share of the votes won by each of them would have increased by 15,000 or 1%. "This is the price of the issue–the price of the noise. A question consequently arises. Gentlemen–how dare you gather a dense mob–proclaim yourself president elect–and push people to extremes? What if blood were shed? Who was to answer then? I am surprised that such irresponsible persons participate in presidential elections and lay claim to presidency," declared Kocharian.

He went on to say that the opposition also cheated and manipulated those people who in effect were placed under administrative arrest. "I understand–that people were stripped of positions–of factories–chances to steal. The price of that is not to be paid out by the people. All those persons who try to settle their affairs at the expense of the people must be well aware of that," said President.

Though most recent arrests are administrative in nature–he said that there are some criminal cases connected to hooliganism–emphasizing that only those who broke the law were detained. "There is no one arrested soley for participating the rallies. We arrested those who surrounded the building housing the State Prosecutor’s Office–who called on people to invade these buildings–those who destroyed the headquarters of other candidates."

Kocharian thanked those citizens who voted for him–as well as the activists who worked in his pre-election headquarters to assist in gaining votes.

"Most of all–I want to thank every person who fulfilled his civil duty as an active citizen of the Republic of Armenia," he added.

Addressing why he did not meet with the mass media earlier–he said that he had waiting for the final results of the elections to be summarized. "I was waiting for the final results–and I think that the current President must hold such patience."

RUMORS ABOUT DEATH OF HUNANIAN END

Authorities dispelled on Wednesday persistent rumors about the death of Nairi Hunanian–the leader of an armed group that attacked the Armenian parliament in October 1999–allowing a small group of journalists–including an RFE/RL correspondent–to see him in jail.

President Robert Kocharian suggested that three of the reporters present at his news conference visit the detention center housing Hunanian and his four henchmen ever since they surrendered to law-enforcement agencies after killing eight senior officials and taking dozens of others hostage on October 27–1999.

Reporters saw Hunanian who appeared in good health.

Rumors that he committed suicide had been circulating in Yerevan since the beginning of January.

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