Armenian exit polls point to first round win for Sarkisian

( dpa )- Armenia Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian, the preferred successor of incumbent President Robert Kocharian, led with 57.1 per cent in the first exit polls released by British pollster Populus two hours after the close of voting in the post- Soviet state's presidential elections Tuesday.

According to initial results by the Populus poll, Sarkisian comfortably passed the 50-per-cent barrier needed to carry home the elections in the first round of voting.

His fiercest challenger, former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, said the poll had been commissioned and accused the government of "mass bribing, ballot stuffing, (and) voting list falsifications" before the close of voting at 8 pm (1600 GMT) Tuesday.

"Populus has nothing to do with the reality. It is totally under the control of the government," Ter-Petrosian's spokesman Arman Musinyan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa on Tuesday.

The opposition pledged to use all "legal" means to protest the results and called for a mass meeting Wednesday afternoon, raising fears of post-election unrest in the streets.

Earlier in the day Sarkisian downplayed the chances of a run-off election.

"I believe that the most important thing is not the number of rounds ... [but] to have a lot of trust in the election results," he told journalists after casting his ballot Tuesday.

The Populus poll showed Ter-Petrosian trailing with 17.4 per cent of the vote, while populist opposition candidate Artur Baghdasarian placed third with 14.6 per cent of the vote.

None of the other seven candidates garnered more than 2 per cent of the vote, according to Populus, which stated that that the poll had a 2-per-cent margin of error.

Armenia's Central Election Commission is expected to publish its results from midnight (2000 GMT).

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