Kocharyan Reduces Curbs on Media Outlets

YEREVAN, Armenia -- Armenian President Robert Kocharyan on Thursday lifted media restrictions imposed as part of a state of emergency declared last month in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

Kocharyan's decree, expected to take effect Friday, allows independent media outlets to report on the government's course and domestic political issues. It also lifts restrictions on political leafleting and other forms of party campaigning. A ban on public meetings and strike action, however, remains in place.

Following the Feb. 19 vote, election officials declared Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan the winner over opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who claimed fraud and led supporters in days of protests. The government declared a 20-day state of emergency on March 1, after clashes between protesters and police left eight people dead and dozens injured.

Kocharyan eased some of the restrictions earlier this week, allowing political parties to resume activities and ending the expulsion of nonresidents from the capital, Yerevan.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice expressed doubt on Wednesday that the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh could be solved soon, saying there were problems on both sides.

"We have been close several times," Rice said at a Capitol Hill hearing on the State Department's budget. "And so we'll continue to try to work that. But I just have to emphasize, we have problems on both sides right now, and we're trying to make sure that both sides act responsibly."The state of emergency in Armenia had made it necessary to suspend some U.S. programs there, Rice said.