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ARMENIA

Armenian Protests Continue Amid Arrests And Resignations

Authorities in Armenia have detained several key opposition activists as demonstrations in Yerevan against a contested presidential election continued into their fifth consecutive day on February 24.

Meanwhile, RFE/RL's Armenian Service reports that a total of nine high-ranking officials with the country's Foreign Ministry have announced their resignations in protest of what they called the government's fraudulent conduct in the February 19 presidential elections.

Official results from the poll gave 52.9 percent of the vote to Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian. But the main opposition challenger, former President Levon Ter-Petrosian -- who won 21.43 percent in the official tally -- has demanded a rerun, alleging that dozens of his activists were beaten and that ballot stuffing, multiple voting and voter intimidation were widespread.

Election monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have described the presidential vote as "mostly" in line with international standards.

Police on February 23 detained key Ter-Petrosian allies, including deputy prosecutor-general Gagik Jangiryan -- who had resigned in protest a day earlier. On February 24, police detained Aram Karapetian, leader of the opposition party New Times, and politician Sambat Ayvazian, who is a former tax chief. Armenian officials said the men were detained on suspicion of possessing illegal weapons.

The arrests came after outgoing Armenian President Robert Kocharian accused his country's political opposition of trying to seize power.

In a statement on February 23, Kocharian pledged that the government's actions will be "decisive and firm to maintain stability and the constitutional order of the country."

In protest of the government's conduct in the poll and afterward, a total of nine foreign ministry officials stepped down over the weekend.

Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Bayburtian announced his resignation on February 23, as did Ruben Shugarian and Levon Khachatrian, who were the ambassadors to Italy and Kazakhstan respectively. Razmik Khumarian, an Armenian diplomat in Ukraine, also resigned.

On February 24, five more diplomats, including Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Karapetian, told RFE/RL's Armenian Service that they had also resigned.

(RFE/RL 24.ii.08)

 
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