A group of gunmen are seeking the release of an opposition figure who was arrested in June
(YEREVAN, Armenia) — Tensions in the Armenian capital rose on Wednesday night as demonstrators clashed with police near a police station where armed men have been holding hostages for four days and protesters erected barricades on a nearby avenue.
The police station in Yerevan’s Erebuni neighborhood was seized on Sunday morning by a group of gunmen seeking the release of an opposition figure who was arrested in June for illegal weapons possession. Investigators claimed he and his supporters were planning to seize government buildings.
A police colonel was killed in the attack and four other officers wounded. Another five remain held as hostages, including a city deputy police chief.
The arrested figure at the focus of the tensions, Jirair Sefilian, is a leader of the opposition group Founding Parliament, which has long called on Armenians to take to the streets to force the government of the former Soviet republic to step down.
Demonstrators supporting the group on Wednesday tried to break through police lines and threw stones and other objects. The police responded with tear gas and stun grenades. Samvel Hovhannisyan, another Yerevan deputy police chief, said many policemen were injured, but didn’t give a figure.
Protesters later began erecting barricades of garbage containers, disused refrigerators and other objects on Tigran Mets Avenue, which runs from the capital’s sprawling central square and near the police station.
Efforts to calm the protesters, including a visit to the scene by a top official of the dominant Armenian Apostolic Church, appeared to have little effect.
Nikol Panishian, an opposition member of parliament who has tried to be a mediator between the gunmen and authorities, urged the demonstrators to be peaceful but to remain at the scene.
“Not one stone should fly at the police. The police are our brothers,” he told the crowd.
The police colonel who was killed in the Sunday seizure was buried on Wednesday. Panishian said the gunmen holding the police station allowed some of the hostages to fire shots from a weapon in a symbolic farewell salute.