Armenia opposition backs down after violent clashes

YEREVAN Sat Mar 1, 2008 6:41pm EST

1 of 7. Protesters look at burning police cars in central Yerevan March 2, 2008. Armenian President Robert Kocharyan declared a state of emergency in the capital on Saturday and vowed to deploy troops against opposition protesters after riots in which at least one person died.

Credit: Reuters/David Mdzinarishvili

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YEREVAN (Reuters) - Most of the opposition supporters locked in a standoff with police in Armenia's capital ended their protest on Sunday but a group of around 60 refused to go home and set fire to abandoned police vehicles.

Most of the crowd, which numbered about 2,000, headed away from a square in the Armenian capital where they had been demonstrating after a message was read out from opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosyan urging them to go home.

Armenian leader Robert Kocharyan had declared a state of emergency late on Saturday and said he would send in the army to end the standoff with opposition supporters, who earlier in the day fought pitched battles with police.

In a message read out by one of his supporters, Ter-Petrosyan told the demonstrators to go home until the 20-day state of emergency had expired.

"I do not want any victims and clashes between police and innocent people. That is why I am asking you to leave," said the message from Ter-Petrosyan, who has been barred by police from leaving his home.

His supporters had been staging daily protests since a February 19 election they said had been rigged to hand victory to Prime Minister Serzh Sarksyan, a close Kocharyan ally.

A Reuters reporter at the scene of the protest said about 60 people refused to go, with some accusing Ter-Petrosyan of being a traitor. They set fire to police jeeps left there following the clashes on Saturday.

Armenia is an ex-Soviet republic of 3.2 million people in a Caucasus mountains region that is emerging as a key transit route for oil and gas supplies from the Caspian Sea.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; editing by Keith Weir)

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