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Armenia's President Sarkisian celebrates election victory

Preliminary results in Armenia show that incumbent President Serge Sarkisian has won another five-year term. He has promised stability for the troubled region where pipelines carry Caspian oil and gas to Europe.

The Central Election Commission show Armenia's pro-Russia President Serge Sarkisian being re-elected with 58.6 percent of the votes cast, enough to avoid a second-round run-off.

The closest of six rivals was post-Soviet Armenia's first foreign minister, Raffi Hovannisian, who had 36.75 percent, according to the commission. However, he has claimed that there had been irregularities in voters' lists and procedures.

Several prominent opposition rivals had chosen not to stand, including former arm-wrestling champion Gagik Tsarukian who leads the Prosperous Armenia party.

Two other candidates, Paruir Airikian, who was injured in an apparent assassination attempt in January and former premier Hrant Bagratian each won about 3 percent, according to the Gallup exit survey of 19,000 voters.

Armenia's electoral commission said voter turnout had been 60 percent and polling had been peaceful. The vote which brought Sarkisian to power in 2008 ended in clashes in which 10 people died.

A fringe candidate, political analyst Andrias Gukasian, had alleged widespread vote-buying by Sarkisian's party.

Stability promised

Campaigning ahead of Monday's vote, Sarkisian, 59, had promised economic recovery and stability in his landlocked South Caucasus nation after years of upheaval and border closures with Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Sarkisian is a veteran of Armenia's 1990s war with neighboring Azerbaijan over the disputed Armenian-run region of Nagorno-Karabakh.

Poverty high

Most election candidates had promised to reduce poverty and unemployment, trends which had prompted nearly one million Armenians to leave over the past two decades.

More than a third of its 3.2 million population lives below the poverty line, according to the World Bank. Unemployment ran at 16 percent last year.

Armenia also remains estranged from its neighbor Turkey over a long-running dispute about the massacres of Armenian civilians during and after World War I.

ipj/slk (Reuters, dpa, AFP)