ASIA

Armenians Protest Reelection

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Thousands of Armenians poured into the streets of this capital city yesterday to protest Robert Kocharian's reelection as president. The United States, meanwhile, questioned the credibility of the vote.

Supporters of defeated opposition leader Stepan Demirchian rallied to accuse Kocharian's supporters of ballot-box fraud and vote-rigging and demanded the vote be declared invalid.

International observers reported numerous cases of fraud, as well as voter intimidation and media bias. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which sent a team to monitor the election, said it was disappointed with the vote, but did not call it illegitimate.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher echoed the criticism. "Armenia's leadership missed an important opportunity to advance democratization by holding a credible election," he said in a statement.

The United States, home to a large Armenian community, carefully monitored the vote in the former Soviet republic of 3.5 million people and signaled that it wanted a fair election to produce leadership capable of tackling Armenia's protracted dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan over control of the Nagorno-Karabakh area. Settling that issue is widely regarded as key to stability in the oil-rich Caspian region.

Reuters

EUROPE

New Leader Elected in Balkans

BELGRADE -- The parliament of Serbia and Montenegro elected a senior official of a ruling, independence-minded Montenegrin party as the new union's first president. Sixty-five deputies in the 126-seat assembly backed Svetozar Marovic as president of the loose union formed last month from the ashes of the former Yugoslavia after a decade of Balkan wars.

The 47-year-old deputy head of Montenegro's Democratic Party of Socialists was the only candidate under a power-sharing agreement with much larger Serbia, which is to get three ministers in the five-member government.

Many analysts doubt the revamped state, set up under pressure by the European Union to prevent further Balkan disintegration, will last long. After three years each member state has the constitutional right to go it alone.

Marovic pledged in an inaugural speech to work to improve the standard of living in the union, impoverished after a decade of bloodshed and international isolation under former Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic, who was ousted by reformers in late 2000.

Reuters

Bulgarian Billionaire Shot Dead

SOFIA, Bulgaria -- A Bulgarian billionaire was shot dead a day after he testified in the murder trial of five men charged in the 1996 assassination of former prime minister Andrei Lukanov. Iliya Pavlov was killed with a single shot as he left his office in Sofia, said Boiko Borisov, chief secretary of the Interior Ministry. Police made no immediate arrests.

Pavlov, 43, was the president of the biggest Bulgarian industrial holding company, MG Corp. He became a prosperous businessman in the early years after the fall of communism and, in November, was ranked the eighth-richest man in central and Eastern Europe by the Polish magazine Vprost. He was said to be worth $1.5 billion.

Associated Press

British Court Sentences Cleric

LONDON -- A Muslim cleric who urged his followers to kill Hindus, Jews and Americans was sentenced to nine years in prison for inciting others to commit murder and stirring up racial hatred.

Judge Peter Beaumont told Abdullah el-Faisal, a Jamaican-born convert to Islam, that he was issuing consecutive rather than concurrent sentences to emphasize Britain's "abhorrence of the views you expressed."

Beaumont said el-Faisal would have to serve at least half his sentence before becoming eligible for parole and added that he would recommend that Home Secretary David Blunkett deport him to Jamaica some time during the sentence if he decided it was appropriate.

A group of the preacher's supporters gathered on a courtroom balcony shouted out in protest when Beaumont handed down the sentence. "Allah is the only judge!" yelled one.

Associated Press

FOR THE RECORD

The largest delegation of U.S. lawmakers to ever visit communist Cuba arrived on the Caribbean island. They are members of the Cuba Working Group, which is pushing for changes in U.S. policy toward Cuba, including an end to travel restrictions for U.S. citizens and an easing of four decades of trade sanctions. . . . Engine trouble likely caused the fiery crash of an Algerian passenger jet that killed 102 people in the Sahara Desert. . . . In Germany, a suspected member of the disbanded Red Army Faction terrorist group, Sabine Callsen, surrendered at the Frankfurt airport after returning from a 20-year exile in the Middle East, federal prosecutors said.

Armenians march down the streets of Yerevan to protest the reelection of President Robert Kocharian, who has been accused of vote-rigging. International observers reported numerous problems with the election.