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Armenia declares state of emergency after violence

Armenia declares state of emergency after violence

Armenia's president imposed a sweeping state of emergency following a day of violence between police and demonstrators protesting alleged fraud in the recent presidential election.
The announcement by President Robert Kocharian came shortly after police fired in the air and let off tear gas to break up a gathering of about 15,000 protesters Saturday evening. Earlier, police forcibly broke up a protesters' tent camp housing hundreds of people.
Witnesses told The Associated Press they had seen demonstrators injured in the nighttime police action, but there was no immediate official information on civilian casualties. Kocharian said eight police were injured and the city police department said some of the injuries were serious.
The health ministry said at least 31 people _ including six police officers _ had sought treatment after the morning troubles. At least 55 people were detained during the day's unrest, said Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor-general's office.
Kocharian said the state of emergency would remain in effect for 20 days. The measure imposes severe restrictions, including banning all mass gatherings and ordering that news media reports on domestic political matters include only official information.
The order also says police have the right to restrict movement and to search private and public vehicles.
Kocharian claimed that some of the demonstrators were armed and that police said they had been shot at.
"What's going on now is not a political process. It has gone over the edge," he said at a late-night news conference. "I appeal to the people of Armenia to show restraint and understanding."
City residents told The Associated Press that tensions remained high in parts of Yerevan as midnight approached, with groups of angry young people prowling the streets, calling for people to join them and occasionally breaking windows. An AP reporter saw overturned cars and the city police department said some police cars had been set on fire, and that looters hit stores and kiosks.
Thousands, sometimes tens of thousands, of protesters have rallied daily since the Feb. 19 election, in which Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian was declared the winner. Sarkisian is a close colleague of Kocharian, who is stepping down because the constitution does not permit him to seek a third term. Opponents allege the government manipulated the vote count.
They also allege the election was fundamentally unfair, saying the government exerted pressure on people to vote for Sarkisian and pressured news media into skewing coverage to favor him.
The general prosecutor's office on Saturday announced it was opening a criminal investigation against the demonstrators connected with the tent camp on suspicion of holding illegal arms.
The protesters back former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian, who finished a distant second to Sarkisian in the official election results. He appealed to the Constitutional Court on Friday to overturn the results.
Ter-Petrosian's legal status was uncertain Saturday. Security police were preventing him from leaving his residence, but he told reporters that no formal house-arrest had been announced against him.
"If he is accused of committing a crime, he should be properly charged and prosecuted in a court of law like anyone else. In a democracy you cannot arbitrarily detain political opponents," said Terry Davis, secretary-general of the Council of Europe, the continent's main human rights body.


Updated : 2021-05-12 11:21 GMT+08:00