Police building in Armenia seized, hostages taken

Armenian police officers blocking the streets to Erebuni police station in Yerevan yesterday. One policeman was killed and several were taken hostage when an armed Armenian group with links to a jailed opposition leader seized a police building.
Armenian police officers blocking the streets to Erebuni police station in Yerevan yesterday. One policeman was killed and several were taken hostage when an armed Armenian group with links to a jailed opposition leader seized a police building.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Armed group demands release of political prisoners and resignation of president

YEREVAN (Armenia) • An armed Armenian group with links to a jailed opposition leader seized a police building in Yerevan yesterday, killing one policeman and taking several more hostage, including top officers.

Though far smaller in scale, suggestions by one opposition politician that an armed uprising was under way stoked speculation that the hostage takers had drawn inspiration from an unsuccessful coup attempt in neighbouring Turkey.

The hostage-takers were demanding the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian and the release of political prisoners, but the country's security services dismissed rumours on social media that a coup was under way. The group released a video on Facebook, calling on Armenians to take to the streets against the government.

"Dear compatriots. It has started. We ask everyone to take to the streets," one of the men said. "Our demand is to set free all political prisoners... and for them to be brought here," one gunman said.

Another hostage-taker said: "The police station has been in our hands for 3½ hours. We have captured all the weapons. There is no other way. We appeal to you. Don't leave us here alone. We are doing our bit - you do your bit."

The security service accused the hostage-takers' supporters of spreading false information on the Internet about an uprising and the seizure of other buildings. Such assertions were pure "disinformation", it said.

"The National Security Service officially announces that such information is absolutely untrue," it said in a statement.

Mr Nikol Pashinyan, a lawmaker who met the hostage-takers, told journalists that the group had taken eight police officers hostage. One of the gunmen was reportedly seriously wounded.

One of the hostage-takers' main demands was to free opposition politician Jirair Sefilian, whom the authorities have accused of plotting civil unrest.

Mr Sefilian was jailed last month over allegations of illegally possessing weapons.

One of the gunmen said on social media that the hostages in the police station in Yerevan's Erebuni district included Armenia's deputy police chief General Major Vardan Egiazaryan and Yerevan deputy police chief Colonel Valeri Osipyan.

Military and police cordons were blocking streets around the Erebuni station yesterday afternoon with vehicles, including an armoured personnel vehicle.

Negotiations were under way to resolve the standoff peacefully, with two hostages freed, Armenia's security service said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Police building in Armenia seized, hostages taken'. Print Edition | Subscribe