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By Shakeh Avoyan



Raffi Hovannisian, the U.S.-born former foreign minister of Armenia, said on Wednesday that he is eligible to run in next February's presidential election and will soon decide whether or not to join the race after assessing his chances of victory.

"I am as eligible to take part in all electoral processes, like the president of the republic and his most radical opponent," he told RFE/RL in an interview.

Hovannisian, who served as foreign minister in 1992, is seen as a potentially strong challenger to President Robert Kocharian's reelection bid. However, his possible presidential run could be hampered by a clause in Armenia's constitution which stipulates that only an Armenian citizen who has "permanently" resided in the country for the ten preceding years can be registered as an election candidate.

Hovannisian obtained Armenian citizenship only last year, several months after surrendering his U.S. passport. But he argues that he first applied for the citizenship in 1992, but it was delayed for many years "in violation of the law."

"Based on the date of my application, I have been a citizen of the independent Republic of Armenia from the day of its creation," he reiterated on Wednesday.

Hovannisian said his electoral plans depend on the findings of his political aides who are now gauging his popularity with ordinary Armenians. He said he will make a final decision by the end of next month.

Hovannisian supported Kocharian's rise to power in 1998 but has since grown very critical of the current regime in Yerevan. The former California-based lawyer signaled his entry into active politics last April when he announced the creation of a non-governmental organization tasked with promoting civic activism in Armenia. Some analysts now regard him as a possible joint presidential candidate of leading opposition parties.

Hovannisian said he will ascertain the circle of his political allies "in the coming weeks" and believes that the February vote will be held in two rounds.

Kocharian, by contrast, has indicated recently his intention to win an outright majority of votes in the first round.
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