Police officer shot in standoff
Violent clashes have gripped Yerevan. Source: YouTube
A gunman trapped in a lengthy standoff in a police station in Armenia’s capital Yerevan shot an officer dead on Saturday, a police spokesman said.
Armenia’s security officers issued a deadline to the gunmen to end the hostage crisis after dozens were hurt in overnight clashes.
Around 75 people were injured and 26 arrested on Saturday morning after the authorities broke up a rally near the police station, where the armed pro-opposition group had been barricaded for almost two weeks with several hostages, including two medics.
“Out of 73 injured people, 26 are still in hospital, including six policemen,” health ministry spokeswoman Anahit Haytayan said.
Journalists were injured and a neighbouring house caught fire.
Police had earlier exchanged fire with the gunmen, wounding two, who were taken to hospital.
A total of 165 people had been detained, according to the authorities, during the overnight unrest, although most were later released. Rioters included members of the pro-western Heritage party Armen Martirosyan.
Yerevan’s ombudsman accused police of excessive use of force against the media during the protest, saying officers prevented journalists from covering the event.
Journalists, including Radio Liberty staff, reported being attacked and beaten by men armed with sticks and metal bars who appeared to be officers in plainclothes.
The gunmen, supporters of jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilyan, stormed the police station on July 17, killing a police officer and taking several personnel hostage and seizing weapons.
Sefilyan, a former military commander who was born in Lebanon, has criticised the handling of the ongoing conflict involving pro-Armenian separatists in the Nagorno-Karabakh region.
The area is in Azerbaijan but has an ethnic-Armenian majority with conflict erupting in 1988. Fighting, which left dozens dead, restarted in April.
The gunmen later freed the police and seized four medics who were treating their injuries.
They demanded the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and Sefilyan’s release while demonstrators regular gathered in the area to make similar demands.
The US embassy in Yerevan said it was “deeply concerned by the shocking images and credible reports of violence and excessive use of force by the police to disperse protesters”.
“We urge the Armenian government to take immediate steps to prevent a repeat of last night’s actions,” it said.