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Elections

Armenian presidential candidate Airikian wounded in shooting

Reports from Armenia say a presidential election candidate has been shot and wounded in the capital Yerevan by unidentified gunmen. Paruir Airikian is one of eight candidates for the February 18 vote.

Opposition supporters wave an Armenian flag during a rally in Yerevan, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. Thousands of opposition supporters rallied for a second straight day in Armenia's capital Thursday, claiming the presidential election was rigged and vowing to protest until a new vote is held. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

Symbolbild Armenien Wahl Wahlen Flagge Fahne

A leading doctor at a clinic in Yerevan said Airikian, a candidate in Armenia's mid-February presidential election, was hospitalized with gunshot wounds late on Thursday. His condition was stable, according to Ara Minasian, the chief doctor at the capital's Clinical Hospital.

Armenian Shans TV quoted a police spokesman as saying that gunmen had fired two shots, wounding Airikian with a bullet to his shoulder, in the courtyard of his house in the center of the capital.

Airikian, 63, a former dissident, is the leader of a moderate opposition party, the National Self-determination Union.

President Sarkisian tipped for re-election

Latest opinion surveys had shown incumbent President Serge Sarkisian likely to win re-election. The wounded Airikian had previously only garnered a few percent.

The incident could, however, delay voting. Under Armenia's constitution, an election can be postponed by two weeks if a candidate is unable to campaign or run.

Regional tensions

Armeniais a landlocked ex-Soviet republic of 3.2 million that is Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus. Its presidential election in 2008 was marred by violent clashes between opposition protesters and police.

Armeniahas a collective security agreement with Russia, while its oil-rich rival and neighbor Azerbaijan has a similar agreement with Turkey.

For decades the two countries have disputed the ownership of the Caucasus mountain region of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is controlled by ethnic Armenians. It broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union fell apart.

A war in the early 1990s claimed about 30,000 lives and ended in a ceasefire in 1994.

Last October, President Sarkisian accused Azerbaijan of contemplating a new war over the territory. Tensions were high after Hungary sent home to Azerbaijan an Azeri officer convicted of killing an Armenian officer on a NATO training course.

ipj/slk (AP, Reuters)