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By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg
A repeat of serious vote irregularities in next month’s parliamentary elections would spell a political “disaster” for Armenia, the secretary general of the Council of Europe warned on Wednesday.

“In my view, it would be a disaster for the country if the parliamentary elections will not take place under very proper circumstances and in accordance with European standards,” Walter Schwimmer, told a news conference in Strasbourg. “These elections must be free, fair and transparent.”

Schwimmer’s stark warning came two days after the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) strongly criticized the Armenian authorities’ conduct of the recent presidential election. In a resolution, the PACE stressed that the May 25 legislative elections must mark a serious improvement over the presidential ballot held in two rounds on February 19 and March 5.

A joint monitoring mission from the PACE and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has concluded that both rounds of voting fell short of democratic standards because of “widespread irregularities.”

Schwimmer said the Armenian government failed to address his grave concerns voiced on the eve of the presidential run-off. He indicated that failure to hold a clean vote on May 25 could destabilize the political situation in Armenia and even prompt punitive action by the Council of Europe.

The PACE decided on Monday to send a much larger delegation of observers to Armenia for the forthcoming elections. An advance team of Council of Europe officials will fly to Yerevan as early as this month, officials in Strasbourg said.

According to Schwimmer, the council’s main decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers, will discuss the Armenian presidential election soon. He said it will also address the post-election wave of arrests of opposition supporters which have been denounced by local and international human rights groups.

A senior PACE lawmaker, Lord Russell-Johnston, has urged the Committee of Ministers to press Yerevan to stop enforcing a Soviet-era administrative code under which many of the detainees have been sentenced to up to 15 days’ imprisonment.
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