Armenia protest continues as poll winner eyes compromise

Agence France Presse -- English
February 29, 2008 Friday 3:32 PM GMT

YEREVAN, Feb 29 2008 -- About 20,000 people demonstrated in Armenia's
capital Yerevan on Friday against results of a February 19 presidential
election, as poll winner Serzh Sarkisian tried to coax opponents onto
his side.

A hard core of protesters have camped for several days on the central
Freedom Square, while larger numbers have gathered every day since
the results of last week's presidential election were announced.

The protesters allege that the poll was marred by vote-rigging in
favour of Sarkisian, the favoured candidate of outgoing President
Robert Kocharian.

Speaking at the meeting, opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian
criticised international observers for not reporting election fraud.

"Usually governments are against their reports but today it is
the opposite and the people are unhappy at the reports of European
observers," said Ter-Petrosian. "Democracy is unhappy."

OSCE observers said earlier that the election "mostly" met
international standards.

Sarkisian has tried to reach out to opponents and on Friday signed a
coalition deal with the third-placed candidate, Artur Baghdasarian,
who heads the Rule of Law Party.

"I am very content that Artur Baghdasarian responded to my appeal
and that he accepted my proposal," Sarkisian told reporters.

Baghdasarian, who has been promised the post of secretary of the
security council, replied: "I am certain that our work will produce
good results."

Sarkisian also said that a deal could soon be made with another
opposition leader, Vahan Hovannisian, who heads the nationalist
party Dashnaktsutiun.

The protesters have called for the result of the election to be
annulled and voiced angry criticism of the coalition deal.

"All this time Baghdasarian lied to the people," said Nikol Pashinian,
one of the protest organisers.

At the weekend several opposition activists were arrested on suspicion
of illegal weapons possession.

The protests have remained peaceful but government buildings and
embassies have been cordoned off by lines of riot police and the
authorities have said their patience is wearing thin.

mkh-kof/ch/ar