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By Emil Danielyan
The United States joined European observers on Tuesday in raising serious questions about the credibility of the official results of Armenia’s weekend constitutional referendum which gave victory to President Robert Kocharian and his allies by a strikingly large margin.

“We share the regret of the Council of Europe, whose observers called into serious question the voter turnout figures for the referendum reported by the Armenian government,” the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs said in a statement.

According to the Central Election Commission, nearly two thirds of Armenia’s 2.3 million eligible voters participated in the referendum and more than 93 percent of them voted for Kocharian’s constitutional amendments. The reported turnout, one of the highest in Armenia’s post-Soviet history, was at odds with unusually deserted polling stations witnessed by observers and journalists across the country on Sunday.

The 14-strong monitoring mission Council of Europe’s cast serious doubt on the official figures on Monday, saying that in a large number of polling stations “the extremely low voting activity did not correspond to the high figures provided by the electoral commissions.”

“We call on the Government of Armenia to investigate Council of Europe observer reports of serious abuses and fraud,” read the statement posted on the website of the U.S. embassy in Yerevan. “It is clear that there is room for improvement in the voting process between now and the 2007-2008 parliamentary and presidential elections.”

The statement reaffirmed U.S. support for the proposed constitutional changes, describing them as “potentially strengthening democratic institutions in Armenia.” The Council of Europe and the European Union take a similar view. Armenian opposition leaders, however, say laws will be irrelevant to the country’s democratization as long as Kocharian and his regime remain in power.

Still, Washington clearly wants to see the Armenian president and his loyal parliament complete their terms in office in 2008 and 2007 respectively. “We are working closely with the Government of Armenia, political parties, and with civil society to implement a package of democracy-building measures aimed at helping Armenia achieve free and fair elections in 2007-2008,” said its statement.
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