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AP
Armenian President Robert Kocharian is to step down at the end of his second term in 2008, a top adviser said Saturday.

Kocharian, who has ruled his impoverished, landlocked Caucasus Mountain nation since 1998, could hand the reins over to his defense minister, said the president's national security adviser, Garnik Isagulian.

"One of those who is most experienced and ready to be the next president of Armenia is the defense minister Serzh Sarkisian," he said. "In this case, Armenia's current political course will be pursued," Isagulian added.

The opposition in Armenia claims that Kocharian is preparing to change the Constitution to allow him to be re-elected for a third consecutive term. But the presidential adviser said that Kocharian did not want to harm the legitimacy of the presidency. "A person who has given so many years of his life to important state affairs would never take such a step," he said.

However, Kocharian will retain major political influence in the country even after he leaves office, said Isagulian. "Kocharian after he finishes his second term will continue to wield influence over the political life of the country, even greater than that of the prime minister," he said.

(Photolur photo: Garnik Isagulian.)
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