German Foreign Minister Pushes for Reform in Armenia, Georgia | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 22.04.2004
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German Foreign Minister Pushes for Reform in Armenia, Georgia

Joschka Fischer will wrap up his trip to the Caucasus region on Thursday with stops in Armenia and Georgia. His visit in Armenia comes during considerable political instability in the country.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian is under pressure to resign.

Armenian President Robert Kocharian is under pressure to resign.

Following visits to Afghanistan and Azerbaijan, Germany's Fischer continued his week-long trip abroad by arriving in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Thursday morning. As he did in Azerbaijan, he is expected to encourage both southern Caucasus nations to continue to improve their democratic and human rights credentials by holding out the prospect of closer ties to the European Union.

Fischer will need plenty of diplomatic tact in Yerevan, since Armenian President Robert Kocharian is under increasing pressure to step down. On Wednesday, opposition groups held a protest rally that attracted an estimated 10,000 people, according to the Associated Press. Opposition groups allege Kocharian won reelection last year only through widespread election fraud, a charge which the president denies.

Tensions in the country rose on April 13, when police used force to break up a protest rally. Around 100 people were reportedly detained and several protestors were injured. "Any administration relying on violence is doomed. Kocharian must go," said Stepan Demirchyan, leader of the opposition Justice Party and runner-up in last year's presidential election, according to the Reuters news agency.

Kocharian's opponents hope to oust him though continued popular unrest, similar to how neighboring Georgia toppled the government of former President Eduard Shevardnadze late last year. But some experts are skeptical Kocharian will be removed from power.

"The Armenian authorities are better consolidated and will defend their position more strongly. Moreover, there's no clear leader of the opposition like there was in Georgia," Andranik Migranyan told DW-Radio.

Conflict with Azerbaijan

While in Yerevan, Fischer will also address the dispute over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which though part of Azerbaijan has been separated from the country since the mid-1990s after a war with ethnic Armenians. A cease-fire in the conflict was signed in 1994, but the final status of Nagorno-Karabakh has not been resolved. In the Azerbaijani capital Baku on Wednesday, Fischer already said Germany and the EU were prepared to help find a solution to the conflict.

Fischer's visit to Armenia will also include a memorial for Armenians killed by Turks in 1915. The Armenians claim Ottoman Turkish forces committed genocide at the time, slaughtering some 1.5 million people between 1915 and 1923. Turkey rejects the charges, saying the Armenians were killed in a partisan war as the Ottoman Empire collapsed.

Heading to Tbilisi later in the day, Fischer will meet with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili to show support for his western oriented reform course. Saakashvili came to power in a bloodless coup that ousted Shevardnadze in November, but he has run into trouble recently, as military commanders in the rebellious Black Sea province of Adzhara refuse to follow the orders of the central government.

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