KOCHARIAN CONGRATULATES REELECTED GEORGIAN LEADER
By Karine Kalantarian and Ruben Meloyan in Tbilisi

Radio Liberty, Czech Republic
Jan 8 2008

President Robert Kocharian has "wholeheartedly" congratulated Mikheil
Saakashvili on his victory in Georgia's disputed presidential election,
his office said on Tuesday.

"I am confident that you will continue reforms aimed at Georgia's
stability, democratization and economic development," Kocharian said
in a letter sent to Saakashvili late Monday and made available to
RFE/RL the next day.

Kocharian also reaffirmed Armenia's commitment to deepening political
and economic ties with Georgia. "Peace and development of regional
cooperation is the main guarantee of stability in the South Caucasus,"
he wrote.

Kocharian and Saakashvili have met regularly -- usually in an informal
format -- to discuss issues of mutual interest ever since the latter
swept to power in 2004 in Georgia's popular "rose revolution." Their
most recent talks took place in the Georgian resort city of Batumi
and the Armenian ski resort of Tsaghkadzor in September and March
2007 respectively.

Speaking to foreign journalists in Tbilisi on Sunday, Saakashvili
described as "excellent" his country's relationships with Armenia as
well as Azerbaijan. "Georgia has never been as close to Armenia and
Azerbaijan as it has during my presidency, and I think [those ties]
will grow even stronger," he said. He also said that Georgia will
serve as a "bridge" between its two estranged South Caucasus neighbors.

Kocharian congratulated Saakashvili before the official announcement
of the final results of the Georgian presidential election held on
Saturday. Its preliminary results showed Saakashvili winning a second
term in office with 52 percent of the vote. His nearest rival, Levan
Gachechiladze, came in a distant second with about 25 percent.

Western monitors described the ballot as largely democratic, saying
that irregularities witnessed by them did not influence the overall
outcome. The positive assessment was echoed by the United States,
the European Union and NATO.

Georgian opposition leaders, however, reject the official vote results
as fraudulent, saying that Saakashvili should at least face a run-off
with Gachechiladze. Gachechiladze and his allies marched into the
offices of the Central Election Commission in Tbilisi on Tuesday,
accusing it of "stealing" as many as 500,000 votes.

Tbilisi-based leaders of Georgia's Armenian community are similarly
divided in their evaluation of the election conduct. Van Bayburt,
a pro-Saakashvili member of the Georgian parliament, called the vote
the most democratic in Georgia's history. "Unfortunately, since 1991
a part of Georgian society has grown used to ousting constitutionally
elected presidents," Bayburt told RFE/RL, commenting on the opposition
allegations.

But Arnold Stepanian, a community leader who supports another
opposition candidate, had a different taken on the Georgian political
crisis. "These elections were just as flawed as the ones held before
2004," he said.