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Wednesday, April 1, 1998 Published at 11:22 GMT 12:22 UK

World: Europe

Kocharian heads for power in Armenia
image: [ Armenians at a polling station near the capital, Yerevan ]
Armenians at a polling station near the capital, Yerevan

Armenia's Prime Minister and acting President, Robert Kocharian, is heading for victory in the country's presidential election against a former Communist party leader, Karen Demirchian.

Voters appear to have preferred Mr Kocharian's tough stance on negotiations over the mainly Armenian republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenian forces captured from Azerbaijan four years ago, rather than Mr Demirchian's campaign, which concentrated on the economy.

[ image: Robert Kocharian: hardline stance on Nagorno-Karabakh]
Robert Kocharian: hardline stance on Nagorno-Karabakh
Unofficial returns gave Mr Kocharian 59.7% of the vote against 40.3% for his rival, with 93% of polling stations reporting, Armenia's Central Elections Commission said. Final official results are due on April 3.

The commission said turnout was approximately 70% in contrast to earlier reports, which put it at around 50%.

Fraud claims

[ image: Karen Demirchian lead Armenia for 14 years in Communist times]
Karen Demirchian lead Armenia for 14 years in Communist times
Both sides have made allegations of irregularities during voting. The staff of Mr Demirchian said they have evidence of fraud on a wide scale. However, a spokesman for Mr Kocharian rejected this and complained about anonymous and aggressive leaflets attacking his candidate.

The run-off poll was watched closely after international observers reported violations during the first round of presidential elections on March 16, in which Mr Kocharian and Mr Demirchian finished first and second respectively. Observers from Organisation for Security and Economic Cooperation are due to give their assessment of voting on Wednesday.

Nagorno-Karabakh dispute

The vote was triggered by the resignation of the previous president, Levon Ter-Petrosyan, in February. He was forced out after backing a new flexible line on the republic of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Mr Kocharian, who used to be leader of the enclave, has said he will take a tough line on negotiations over the future of the region. The BBC Moscow Correspondent says it is a position which is likely to prolong Armenia's international isolation and delay economic recovery.

Mr Demirchian, the leader of Armenia for 14 years in Communist times, barely mentioned Nagorno-Karabakh during his campaign. He concentrated instead on the miserable state of the economy.

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