Gunmen assassinate Armenian PM in parliament

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The Independent Online

The Prime Minister of Armenia, Vazgen Sarkissian, was shot dead with other leading officials yesterday when gunmen burst into parliament and opened fire, claiming to be staging a coup.

The Prime Minister of Armenia, Vazgen Sarkissian, was shot dead with other leading officials yesterday when gunmen burst into parliament and opened fire, claiming to be staging a coup.

The attack, which was seen on live television, came as Mr Sarkissian - a nationalist who took a hard line over Armenia's relations with neighbouring Azerbaijan - was making a speech. Six other people were killed and 30 wounded, including the parliamentary speaker, according to reporters inside the building.

Witnesses said the gunmen shouted that they were launching a coup. Terrified MPs tried to flee from the assembly but the five or six attackers were reported to be holding some hostage. Armed police surrounded the building in the centre of the capital, Yerevan.

Konstantin Petrosian, an Armenian journalist who was covering the session of parliament, said he recognised one of the attackers as Nairiu Unanyan, a former journalist and one-time member of the nationalist Dashnak Party. "We have come to avenge those who drank the blood of the nation," Mr Petrosian quoted one of the gunmen as saying.

However, the presidential spokesman, Vahe Gabrielian, insisted that there was no coup. "This is just a handful of terrorists ... this is definitely not a coup," he said.

There was speculation that the shooting was linked to a territorial conflict. But other analysts said that Mr Sarkissian's anti-corruption drive and perceived attempts to manipulate the last elections had also made him many enemies.

Mr Sarkissian, 40, had been premier since June. He was an ally of the parliamentary speaker, Karen Demirchian, leader of Armenia in the Soviet period, who was among those killed.

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