Elections in Armenia were marred
by ballot-rigging

More than half of the votes have been counted, but it seems likely that parties loyal to Armenia's President Robert Kocharyan will end up with a comfortable majority in the 131-seat parliament of the tiny Caucasus republic.

The results were overshadowed by claims of electoral fraud for the second time this year.

In a scathing report, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Council of Europe said many of the violations took place in full view of their election monitors.

They also said they were "shocked" by a shootout overnight outside a polling station in southern Armenia - during an inspection by observers. The shooting left one man dead and three people with bullet wounds.

"If this goes on under the eyes of our observers one can only imagine what happens in places where our observers are not there," said Robert  Barry, the OSCE ambassador in Armenia,

Armenia had hoped to avoid the criticism it had received after irregularities in the Spring election.

Election officials dismissed the fraud claims, Monday. "The elections did not go badly and that will become clearer as we finalise the results," said Pavel Yedigarian, an official with the Central Election Commission.

A nation of three million people left impoverished after a war with neighbouring Azerbaijan in the early 1990s, Armenia is trying to curry favour with the West, not least because it depends on aid handouts from overseas.