Armenia opposition chief ends hunger strike, calls for protests

YEREVAN Fri Mar 29, 2013 6:08pm GMT

Presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian addresses supporters at a rally in Yerevan February 19, 2013. REUTERS/David Mdzinarishvili

Presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian addresses supporters at a rally in Yerevan February 19, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili

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YEREVAN (Reuters) - Defeated Armenian presidential candidate Raffi Hovannisian said on Friday he was ending a hunger strike over allegations President Serzh Sarksyan rigged last month's vote, but vowed to continue street protests.

Armenia's Constitutional Court has rejected challenges lodged by Hovannisian over the February 18 poll which Sarksyan won with 58.6 percent of the vote. Hovannisian came second with 37 percent.

The head of the opposition Heritage Party said he would end his two-week-old hunger strike on Easter Sunday to make sure he had enough energy to keep up his political work.

"I will complete my modest hunger strike, which was for the sake of faith, Motherland, peace and the future," Hovannisian told supporters gathered in a central square of the capital Yerevan.

He called on supporters to hold a rally during Sarksyan's inauguration ceremony on April 9.

Hovannisian, a U.S.-born former foreign minister of the landlocked ex-Soviet republic, sent 70 complaints to the electoral commission, which responded by saying the documents were based neither on facts nor legal evidence.

International monitors described the poll as an improvement on previous ones but said it lacked real competition after some of Sarksyan's rivals decided not to run.

Foreign governments and investors are watching for any sign of instability in the country which lies in the volatile South Caucasus region, crossed by pipelines carrying Caspian oil and natural gas to Europe.

Landlocked Armenia has a tense relationship with neighbouring Azerbaijan over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is inside Azeri territory but has been controlled by ethnic Armenians since a war in the 1990s.

(Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Alissa de Carbonnel and Andrew Heavens)

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