Armenian police accuse barricaded gunmen of killing officer

AP News
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Posted: Jul 30, 2016 1:44 PM
Armenian police accuse barricaded gunmen of killing officer

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armed members of an opposition group barricaded inside a police station in Armenia's capital shot an officer dead on Saturday, police said.

The fatal shooting, the second since the takeover of the station two weeks ago, further heightened tensions following violent clashes Friday night between riot police and opposition supporters that injured 75 people.

Police spokesman Ashot Agaronyan said on Facebook the policeman was in a vehicle 400 meters (yards) from the station when he was killed by sniper fire.

The Yerevan police station was seized July 17 by about 30 armed members of an opposition group, who killed one officer and wounded several others in the attack. They are demanding freedom for the leader of the group, who was arrested in June. The opposition group has sharply criticized the government of the former Soviet republic and called for people to take to the streets to force the president and the prime minister to step down.

Since the takeover, security forces have wounded eight of the gunmen, including three shot in the legs Friday, apparently by sniper fire.

When several hundred supporters of the gunmen attempted late Friday to approach the station, they were stopped by rows of riot police and clashes broke out. Police said 165 people were rounded up and all but 26 were released. The investigative agency said charges have been filed against 23 people.

On Saturday, Armenia's security service gave the gunmen until 5 p.m. to surrender and said otherwise its forces reserved the right to open fire without warning.

The deadline passed with no immediate action taken.

The gunmen are demanding the release of Jirair Sefilian, leader of the opposition group Founding Parliament, who was charged with illegal acquisition and possession of weapons. Investigators said he and his supporters were planning to seize government buildings and the television transmission tower.

Sefilian, who was born in Lebanon, is well known in Armenia for his military successes in the war against neighboring Azerbaijan in the early 1990s. Many of the gunmen inside the police station are veterans of that war.

Of the 75 people who required medical treatment after Friday night's violence, 25 of them remained hospitalized, including six law enforcement officers, the Health Ministry said. Some of the injured were suffering from burns.

Police used stun grenades to drive back the opposition supporters, some of whom threw stones at the rows of riot police blocking their path.

Journalists, including from Radio Liberty, reported being attacked and beaten by men armed with sticks and metal bars who appeared to be plainclothes police officers.

Prosecutors on Saturday promised to investigate.