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Wednesday, 18 March, 1998, 11:57 GMT
International monitors criticise Armenia elections
Former Communist leader Karen Demirchian has complained over the voting
An international monitoring team has described the conduct of Armenia's presidential election as "deeply flawed" and called for urgent measures against poll fraud before the second round in two weeks' time.

The observer mission from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, one of a number of teams scrutinising the vote on Monday, said electoral law violations had been found at 15 percent of the more than 800 polling stations monitored across the former Soviet republic.

"We regret that this first round of the elections fell short of the standards to which Armenia has committed itself in OSCE documents," the statement said.

It said significant improvements would be needed for the second-round runoff between the prime minister, Robert Kocharian and his rival Karen Demirchian, Armenia's leader from the Soviet era, to be fair.

Robert Kocharian: lead not big enough to win outright
The OSCE statement fell short of calling the vote invalid. The chief OSCE observer, Sam Brown, said: "Although this election was deeply flawed, we don't believe the outcome would have been in any way altered by the violations we observed."

Areas of concern include ballot box stuffing, media bias, campaign violence and the use of state resources.

With about 85% of the votes counted, unofficial results from the electoral commission put Mr Kocharian in the lead with just under 40% of the vote.

Candidates protest

Seven of the 12 candidates in Monday's presidential election in Armenia have signed a letter saying the vote was marred by terror and falsification.

The Central Election Commission has said their complaints are without foundation.

The election is to replace Levon Ter-Petrosian, who resigned last month.

A BBC Correspondent in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, says that the official candidate, Mr Kocharian, has had an advantage in the elections through the support of the official media.

Mr Kocharian, 43, led the Armenian war effort in the conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh and is thought to appeal to younger voters, while Mr Demirchian, 65, has presented himself as a competent administrator, and a familiar face who could revive Armenia's struggling economy.

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