YEREVAN–Armenia’s president imposed a state of emergency on Saturday after protests against alleged fraud in last month’s presidential elections turned violent.
The announcement from the office of President Robert Kocharian came shortly after police fired shots in the air and tear gas to disperse demonstrators. Police earlier broke up a protesters’ tent camp housing hundreds of people.
Kocharian’s office said the state of emergency would last 20 days.
Armenian police early Saturday morning dispersed a demonstration by opposition supporters who had camped out in the capital for more than a week to protest the results of presidential elections.
The police moved in before 7 a.m. and began forcing protesters onto buses. A few clashes broke out on the central Yerevan square.
The Armenian Health Ministry said 31 people, including six policemen, had sought treatment for injuries in the clash; it said 10 people were hospitalized, but did not state the severity of their injuries nor how many of them were police.
The opposition has protested the results of the Feb. 19 presidential election results and tried to force a new vote.
About 2,000 demonstrators marched through Yerevan on Saturday afternoon, but many downtown streets and the square that had held the camp were closed off by police.
Demonstrators threw trash on some cars and pounded on a police vehicle.
The observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said there were concerns about the vote count, but it issued a generally positive assessment. Ter-Petrosian, a former president of Armenia, appealed to the Constitutional Court on Friday to overturn the results.
The post-election unrest in Armenia deepened on Saturday evening as thousands of people rallied and barricaded themselves on a major street intersection in central Yerevan in anticipation of another government attempt to forcibly end the ongoing opposition protests.
The crowd, furious with the break-up earlier in the day of an overnight protest by fellow supporters of Ter-Petrosian, blocked all streets leading to the area with buses and other vehicles seized from riot police that tried unsuccessfully to disperse them several hours earlier. Ter-Petrosian associates urged the protesters not go home.
"Levon Ter-Petrosian told us to stay here and wait for him," one of them, Aram Sarkisian, said.
However, Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian denied rumors that Ter-Petrosian was placed under house arrest, saying that officers of the State Protection Service (SPS) were deployed outside his house only to ensure his personal security. Oskanian said they will be removed from there if Ter-Petrosian renounces the services of his bodyguards employed by the SPS.
Speaking at a joint news conference with a deputy chief of the Armenian police, Oskanian echoed police claims that the more than one thousand opposition supporters camped in Liberty Square themselves attacked security forces before being dispersed by the latter.
Meanwhile, another opposition leader, Nikol Pashinian, urged the protesters massing in the vast area outside the Yerevan municipality and the French Embassy in Armenia to boost their "self-defense" and brace themselves for a possible police attack. He also told them to reinforce the barricades set up there following the police attempt to disperse several hundred opposition supporters who gathered there by noon.
Many protesters were already armed with metal and wooden sticks and sounded bullish about taking on security forces. Some held truncheons and shields seized from riot police. Angry protesters also set ablaze a police jeep which eyewitnesses said raced through the street intersection and ran over two women. They said a policeman that drove it escaped the scene unharmed.