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By Armen Zakarian in Strasbourg
The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, said on Wednesday that Armenia should learn lessons from this year’s disputed presidential and parliamentary elections if it is to integrate further into the European community of nations.

“Only with free, fair and transparent elections will the country have a democratic future,” Schwimmer told RFE/RL in Strasbourg, in comments reflecting Western disappointment with the Armenian authorities’ handling of both polls, described as deeply flawed by international observers.

Schwimmer said holding democratic elections should now be a matter of “dignity” for official Yerevan which has repeatedly given such assurances to the Council of Europe and other international institutions. Their strong criticism of electoral fraud has dealt a serious blow to Armenia’s international reputation.

Armenia faced another embarrassment on Monday when the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) was asked by one of its an ad hoc committees to consider blocking participation of an Armenian parliamentary delegation at the next PACE session. Schwimmer would not be drawn on the likelihood of such a punitive measure. But the Austrian official hinted that serious sanctions against the country are not on the cards.

“Armenia should not be isolated or feel isolated,” he said.

Schwimmer further made it clear that the Council of Europe will be equally consistent in assessing national elections due in neighboring Azerbaijan and Georgia this fall. The two countries will elect a president and a parliament respectively. Opposition forces there are already expressing concern about the freedom and fairness of the votes.
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