Police stop opposition march in Armenia, arrest 20

YEREVAN Tue Nov 5, 2013 12:03pm EST

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YEREVAN (Reuters) - Armenian police detained 20 people in clashes on Tuesday with anti-government protesters armed with sticks and firecrackers who tried to march on the presidential palace, witnesses said.

President Serzh Sarksyan was re-elected to a second five-year term in February but independent monitors said the vote lacked real competition and some small street protests flared for a short time afterward.

Tuesday's protest march, led by Shant Arutyunian, a flamboyant opposition activist who ran in the 1999 parliamentary election, was blocked by police en route to the presidential palace.

Scuffles ensued as dozens of protesters wearing Guy Fawkes masks on the backs of their heads threw large firecrackers at policemen, injuring several, a police spokesman said.

Guy Fawkes, a 17th century English Catholic, was the best-known conspirator in a plot to blow up the English parliament.

In March, Armenia's Constitutional Court rejected claims by two unsuccessful presidential candidates that the February 18 vote was rigged, upholding Sarksyan's re-election.

Armenia, a landlocked former Soviet republic of 3 million people, has a common security treaty with Russia and hosts of one of Moscow's few foreign military bases.

Investors worry over signs of instability in the South Caucasus region, a key transit route for Caspian energy resources to Europe. Violence after the 2008 election that first brought Sarksyan in power killed 10 people.

Armenia also remains in territorial dispute with neighboring Azerbaijan two decades after a war between the two over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh killed some 30,000 people.

(Reporting By Hasmik Mkrtchyan, Writing by Alexei Anishchuk)

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