The government in Armenia invited the opposition to talks on Monday about the disputed results of a presidential election, as a protest demanding annulment of the poll entered its sixth day in Yerevan, the capital.

Serzh Sarkysyan, the former prime minister, and chosen successor of the outgoing president Robert Kocharyan, won 53 per cent of the votes at the election on February 19th, according to official results published at the weekend.

Levon Ter-Petrosyan, his main opponent, garnered 21.5 per cent of the votes in a bid to regain the presidency he held during the 1990’s.

“The Armenian authorities and the protesting opposition must begin the process of rapprochement and end the division in society,” Vardan Oskanyan, Armenia’s foreign affairs minister, told a press conference in Yerevan.

“The opposition’s constant attempts to shatter the foundations of state authority in the country have not been crowned with success,” he said, adding that the authorities remained “strong and stable.”

Earlier in the day the government moved to quash any rebellion within its ranks, announcing it would dismiss six diplomats who had criticised the handling of the election.

Mr Oskanyan said the government had no choice but to dismiss the diplomats for joining ranks with Mr Ter-Petrosyan who “had called Armenia a robber state for a long time, and its president the biggest, biggest thief”.

“What is left for the president but to sign a (dismissal) order”, he said.

Mr Kocharyan pledged at the weekend to crack down on the opposition for attempting “to seize power illegally.” “Our actions will be decisive and tough, geared towards safeguarding stability and the country’s constitutional order,” he said in a statement issued after a meeting with security officials

Armenian police later arrested two prominent opposition figures.

However, Mr Oskyan played down the significance of the thousands-strong protest on Monday, saying it was a “manifestation of democracy.”

Mr Ter-Petrosyan told the demonstrators he would challenge the election result in the Constitutional Court saying it was a “Pyrrhic victory”.

He also lashed out at international observers for failing to uncover vote rigging.

“Saddam Hussein has been born in Armenia today. Don’t behave in a way that will result in you restoring democracy in Armenia with the help of tanks”, he said.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe said the election had been broadly fair.

But Human Rights Watch said it had documented evidence of election-day violence, with assailants intimidating opposition activists, journalists and observers at polling stations in Yerevan.

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