Thousands Rally for Kocharian Ahead of Run offs

FIRST-EVER PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE HELD

YEREVAN (Armenpress/Reuters/Yerkir/NoyanTapan/RFE/RL)–Sixty thousand people converged in Armenia’s capital Yerevan on Monday in support of incumbent Robert Kocharian as election campaigning drew to a close two days before the final round of a presidential race.

"We need a victory to give us the opportunity to work effectively in future. Free–democratic and transparent elections must be the main component of our victory. Unfortunately–there are forces that try to damage the stability in the country and I–personally having greatly contributed into the process of establishment of stability–cannot remain indifferent towards these efforts," said Kocharian.

Speaking about Armenia’s sustainable development–he stressed there remain problems. "The emergence of sustainable development signifies an opportunity to solve these problems. There are many negative factors against which we must struggle together. We have much work to do and this work must be done together. We must continue restoration of industry–modernization of agriculture–support of small and medium business development."

Kocharian expressed gratitude for the opportunity to have struggled for the independence of his country and to have served his nation.

PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Although as late as on Monday Demirchian’s press secretary insisted that Demirchian refused to debate Robert Kocharian on Public Television–stating "no official invitation was sent to Stepan Demirchian of the People’s Party headquarters in the second round of the election," and complaining about the conditions set by Armenian Public TV–"you realize that it is not a debate–it is a joint news conference of the candidates–which is absurd; we insist on a one-on-one debate," a presidential debate nevertheless took place with reporters from five independent TV stations and one from public TV–each posing one question to be addressed by both candidates.

The first-ever presidential debate for Armenia took place late Monday evening local time and ended just 15 minutes before midnight. Questions addressed agricultural development–working with international institutions–constitutional reforms–foreign policy–and internal social-economic problems.

The incumbent Kocharian–armed with five years of presidential experience and a clear platform–succeeded in addressing issues head on by providing detailed answers. Demirchian–in the meantime often became flustered–provided generalizations–rehashed Kocharian responses and even dismissed questions with an occasional "anyhow."

Demirchian lashed out at the state-run Armenian Public Television and other pro-Kocharian media for their "ferocious" coverage of his presidential campaign–that he said was full of "slander and lies."

He avoided detailed answers to questions about his socioeconomic platform–repeatedly stressing that only a "legitimately elected president" can address problems facing Armenia. He went on to denounce Kocharian for recent days’ arrests of more than a hundred opposition activists–most of them his election proxies.

Kocharian countered by saying that he has always been tolerant of dissent and that some of Demirchian’s opposition allies called for a "violent overthrow of constitutional order" during the campaign rallies.

When asked about constitutional reforms–Demirchian insisted that the Constitution must be adhered to strictly. Kocharian rebutted asking whether Demirchian is aware of a series of legislation that must be passed in order to meet requiremen’s Armenian held before the European Union–and whether parliamentary elections would be held in May. Demirchian responded by first criticizing the government for not abiding by the Constitution and added that Armenia’should not at once transition to a parliamentary form of government.

Kocharian added that three fundamental issues are either absent from his opponent’s program or are addressed with generalizations: constitutional reforms–recognition of the Armenian Genocide–and the process of Mountainous Karabagh’s conflict resolution.

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