Thousands attend rally before Armenian elections

Some 6,000 people turned out Sunday for a rally organized by an opposition party that hopes to improve its foothold in parliamentary elections in the former Soviet republic of Armenia next weekend. Leaders of the party Orinats Yerkir, whose name means Country Ruled by Law, accused President Robert Kocharian's government of corruption and cronyism in speeches to the crowd in central Yerevan. Party leader Artur Bagdasarian vowed to protest vigorously if the party suspects fraud in Saturday's vote. Opposition parties said 2003 parliamentary and presidential elections were marred by fraud and intimidation, and international observers also said he votes failed to meet standards for democracy. The pro-Western Bagdasarian resigned as parliament speaker last year, after his liberal party quit the governing coalition because of dissatisfaction with the government's foreign policy and the pace of democratic reform. His resignation came after a political uproar over his reported comment that Armenia's future lies with the European Union and NATO and that Russia should not block its Westward path.