Armenia charges ex-president with vote rigging

Yerevan (AFP) –


Armenia on Thursday charged former president Robert Kocharyan with rigging elections over a decade ago in favour of a political ally, in what investigators said amounted to a coup.

The ex-Soviet nation's new leader Nikol Pashinyan has launched a sweeping, anti-graft crackdown on former elites since he was brought to power in May on the back of popular protests.

The Armenian special investigation service said Kocharyan had been charged with "overthrowing Armenia's constitutional order".

Kocharyan, who is not currently in custody, could face up to 15 years behind bars if found guilty of tipping a 2008 vote in favour of his ally Serzh Sarkisian.

Supporters of the defeated opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan came out to protest after he denounced the vote as fraudulent.

Tensions erupted into violent clashes between riot police and Ter-Petrosyan's supporters, in which nine protesters and one officer were killed.

Pashinyan was arrested for organising the protests and sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released as part of an amnesty in 2011.

Sarkisian led the South Caucasus nation until April this year, when he was forced to resign because of mass protests against his rule. Pashinyan became his successor on a promise to stamp out graft.

A pro-Russian politician, Kocharyan served as Armenia's second post-Soviet president from 1998 to 2008.

His presidency saw the bloodiest event in Armenia's post-Soviet political history -- the terrorist attack on the Armenian parliament in 1999.

Opposition parties have accused Kocharyan of organising the attack in which five gunmen killed his political foes, Prime Minister Vazgen Sargsyan and parliament speaker Karen Demirchyan.