Armenia declares emergency rule

BBC News
3/1/2008

A state of emergency has been declared in Armenia's capital on
the 11th consecutive day of protests against an allegedly rigged
presidential election.

President Robert Kocharyan signed the decree "to prevent a threat to
constitutional order".

It came after police fired in the air to disperse demonstrators. Some
reports suggest a number of casualties.

Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian won the 19 February vote against
opposition challenger Levon Ter-Petrosian.

Mr Ter-Petrosian says he is under house arrest.

'Standing firm'

The latest clashes erupted after police cleared Freedom Square of
opposition demonstrators who had been camping there since the election.

Regrouping later, they used buses as barricades. Some cars were set
on fire.

Lines of police were deployed to face the protesters.

A witness told Reuters news agency police had fired in the air "to
scare us".

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"We could see red tracer bullet fire being shot in two directions"
- Alan Saffery, Witness

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"They have fired tear gas. But people are standing firm. There are
thousands of people standing here with us."

Some unconfirmed reports said a number of people had been injured
as police fired in the air. It was not clear how the injuries were
sustained.

Alan Saffery, a development consultant in Yerevan, heard a lot of
gunfire from his home close to Freedom Square.

"After the shooting, we heard a lot of shouting and saw people running
from the scene. We could see red tracer bullet fire being shot in
two directions," he told the BBC.

Lori, who lives in the centre of Yerevan, saw a line of tanks roll
down her street shortly before the violence erupted.

"About 30 minutes later I saw a flash from my window and then we
heard a boom sound," she said.

"We heard shooting and saw red tracer bullets firing in our direction.
The shooting was constant and very heavy for more than an hour."

Witnesses also spoke of looting in the centre of Yerevan.

The state of emergency is to remain in force until 20 March, the
presidential decree says.

The opposition has said it will continue with the protests.

International observers judged the poll in the ex-Soviet Caucasus
republic to be generally democratic.

Official results gave Mr Sarkisian 53% of the vote, with Mr
Ter-Petrosian, a former president, getting 21.5%.