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Last Updated: Sunday, 2 March 2008, 14:30 GMT
Troops patrol bruised Yerevan
By Matthew Collin
BBC News, Yerevan

Armenian riot policeman and burnt-out car in Yerevan - 2 Mar 08
A state of emergency has been imposed in Yerevan
The day after clashes in the Armenian capital, Yerevan, the streets appear calm.

But that is not surprising, as the authorities have sent in the army to prevent further unrest after a night of violence between riot police and protesters who claim that February's presidential elections were rigged.

The mood remains tense and many people are still fearful.

Soldiers with automatic weapons and armoured vehicles stand guard outside government buildings in Yerevan's Republic Square.

A short walk away, security forces have also been stationed in the square which the protesters temporarily occupied on Saturday evening, before the riot police moved in.

The tarmac is still strewn with debris and bricks which appear to have been used as missiles by the protesters as they fought back against armed officers who fired gunshots and tear gas.

There are also burnt-out cars and the wrecks of buses which the protesters had used as barricades.

Casualties

A state of emergency has been declared, mass gatherings have been banned and restrictions imposed on the media.

Ter-Petrosian supporters rally in Yerevan, 1 Mar 08
Ter-Petrosian supporters staged a big rally before the crackdown
A spokesman for Armenian opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian condemned the police operation.

"It's hard for me to find words to describe a government which uses force against its own people," he told the BBC.

That was before officials announced that eight people had died during the unrest on Saturday, and many more had been injured.

In an interview with the BBC just after the clashes broke out, the Armenian Foreign Minister, Vardan Oskanian, defended the decision to impose a state of emergency.

"The president did it with great regret, but I don't think he was left with any other option, because the crowd had become so aggressive and out of control, so it was necessary to ensure public safety," Mr Oskanian said.

He admitted the unrest could damage Armenia's international image, but blamed Mr Ter-Petrosian for refusing to negotiate and effectively demanding regime change.

Tent city

Mr Ter-Petrosian had referred to the 11-day, round-the-clock protests as a "democratic revolution".

The shooting was constant and very heavy for more than an hour
Lori, a Yerevan resident

His supporters had set up a tent camp on Yerevan's Freedom Square, which had become the focus for mass rallies involving tens of thousands of people every day.

The scene was reminiscent of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004, although on a much smaller scale.

Protesters lit fires and set up braziers to keep warm amid freezing temperatures. A photographic exhibition was set up outside one tent; outside another, there was a bulletin board with the latest news from the opposition campaign.

Some people had decorated their tents with flowers and slogans calling on Western governments to recognise what they described as massive fraud in February's presidential elections, which gave victory to the prime minister, Serzh Sarkisian.

map

International observers gave the polls a largely positive assessment, although they did point to serious shortcomings.

Law enforcement

Earlier this week, one of the tent-camp organisers, 25-year-old Marine, vowed they would stay as long as it took to achieve victory.

"People believe that no-one could attack them in Freedom Square, because that would be a big, big mistake," she told the BBC.

But the authorities repeatedly warned that the protests were unlicensed and illegal, and said they were disrupting the everyday life of the capital.

Police moved in to clear the tent camp at daybreak on Saturday, just hours before the city centre descended into chaos.

Early this morning, the Armenian opposition called on its supporters to go home to avert more violence.

The police have also warned people in Yerevan to obey the state of emergency.



SEE ALSO
In pictures: Yerevan crackdown
01 Mar 08 |  In Pictures
Armenia declares emergency rule
01 Mar 08 |  Europe
Thousands occupy Armenia square
22 Feb 08 |  Europe
Armenia PM wins presidency poll
20 Feb 08 |  Europe
Timeline: Armenia
21 Feb 08 |  Country profiles

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