Armenia Imposes State of Emergency

APA man walking among burned cars in central Yerevan on Sunday after night riots led to a 20-day state of emergency.
YEREVAN, Armenia -- Troops and armored vehicles patrolled the main streets of Armenia's capital Sunday following violent protests that left eight dead, dozens injured and led the president to declare a sweeping, 20-day state of emergency.

President Robert Kocharyan declared the state of emergency Saturday night following a day of clashes between police and demonstrators protesting alleged fraud in the Feb. 19 presidential election.

Police fired in the air and let off tear gas to break up a gathering of some 15,000 opposition demonstrators, in some of the worst political violence to hit Armenia.

Police spokesman Sayat Shirinyan said Sunday that eight people were killed and 33 officers wounded. He did not say whether the dead were police or protesters.

After the president's announcement, a few thousand people remained in the streets, some holding peaceful vigils. By morning, some streets were littered with the hulks of burned cars, and troops carrying assault rifles and wearing bullet-proof vests stood on street corners.

David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters
Armored military vehicles taking position in downtown Yerevan on Sunday.
The city police department said that during the protests, police cars had been set on fire and that looters hit stores and kiosks.

The demonstrators supported opposition presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosyan, who was being prevented from leaving his residence. From his home, he recorded an appeal overnight to the protesters to go home.

Aides drove through central Yerevan playing the recording from loudspeakers atop cars, and most demonstrators appeared to be gone by Sunday morning.

"Our forces are unequal, we are surrounded by troops and our president suggests we disperse," Ter-Petrosyan said in the recording.

Ter-Petrosyan, who finished a distant second to Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan in the official results from the election, appealed to the Constitutional Court on Friday to overturn the results.

His legal status was uncertain Sunday. Security police were preventing him from leaving his residence, but he told reporters that no formal house arrest had been announced against him.

Armenia's parliament approved the state of emergency decree overnight in an extraordinary session. It 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.