Riots over vote force state of emergency in Armenia

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The Independent Online

A state of emergency was declared in Armenia yesterday after clashes between riot police and protesters left eight people dead and more than 30 policemen injured.

More than 15,000 people were protesting against the results of presidential elections held a fortnight ago, in which the Prime Minister, Serge Sarkisian, deafeated former president Levon Ter-Petrosian. The 19 February elections were described as mostly fair by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but opposition supporters claim mass fraud in favour of Mr Sarkisian, a close ally of the outgoing president, Robert Kocharian. Mr Sarkisian won just enough votes to avoid a second-round run-off.

After 11 days of peaceful protests, the demonstrations became violent on Saturday, with rioters clashing with armed police and setting fire to cars in the capital, Yerevan. The city centre was deserted yesterday, but littered with burnt-out cars.

Mr Kocharian imposed a state of emergency until 20 March, with troops and armoured vehicles patrolling the streets and all protests banned. A media blackout has also been imposed.

Mr Ter-Petrosian, who stepped down in 1998, has accused the regime of cronyism and corruption, and says he is being held under house arrest. The government says he is being guarded for his own protection.