ARMENIAN OPPOSITION VOWS DEFIANCE

BBC NEWS
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/e urope/7274247.stm
2008/03/03 04:54:31 GMT

Armenia's main opposition leader has vowed to continue protesting
against the result of the presidential election, which he says
was rigged.

Levon Ter-Petrosian made the pledge despite the deaths of eight people
in clashes between his supporters and riot police on Saturday.

A state of emergency is in force in the capital Yerevan and the army
has been patrolling the streets.

The election was officially won by PM Serzh Sarkisian with a big
majority.

International observers judged the election to be generally democratic
but noted some problems with the vote count.

Two pan-European bodies, the Council of Europe and the Organisation
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), have voiced concern
about the situation in the ex-Soviet republic.

The OSCE is sending an envoy to try to arrange talks between the
government and the opposition.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Armenia
to conduct a "prompt and independent investigation into the use of
lethal force by security forces".

'Hateful regime'

Mr Ter-Petrosian told reporters there could be years of political
conflict ahead.

The shooting was constant and very heavy for more than an hour Lori,
a Yerevan resident

"Acting within the law...we will struggle... until the removal of
this hateful, criminal regime... without being afraid of prison and
without being afraid of their threats," he said.

Mr Ter-Petrosian expressed regret about the eight people who died on
Saturday after armed police fought pitched battles with protesters who
had set up barricades in the city centre, but he said the government
was to blame.

The authorities said they had to restore order after 11 days of mass
demonstrations which they had repeatedly warned were illegal.

Outgoing President Robert Kocharian declared a state of emergency
was in force until 20 March.

Mr Ter-Petrosian was the president of Armenia in the 1990s but recently
made a dramatic comeback as an outspoken opposition leader, the BBC's
Matthew Collin notes.

Mr Ter-Petrosian gave his news conference on Sunday at his heavily
guarded mansion on a hill-top overlooking Yerevan where he says he
is being kept against his will by police.

But the authorities insist he is not under house arrest.

'Intimidation'

Official results gave Mr Sarkisian 53% of the vote in the 19 February
election, with Mr Ter-Petrosian getting 21.5%.

OSCE special envoy Heikki Talvitie hopes to have talks with all the
key figures concerned.

In its preliminary assessment of the election, the OSCE said last
month that the vote had been "mostly in line with the country's
international commitments".

However, it also noted some "problems... particularly during the
counting".

HRW reported instances of intimidation at eight polling stations in
or around Yerevan.

"Assailants intimidated, threatened, and even violently attacked
opposition party activists, domestic observers and journalists,"
it said on 22 February.