YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — More than 200 radical opposition supporters fought pitched battles with riot police in Yerevan late on Wednesday as they attempted to approach a police station occupied by gunmen seeking the release of Jirayr Sefilian, the leader of the Founding Parliament opposition movement, who was arrested last month on charges of illegal acquisition and possession of weapons.
The crowd mainly consisting of young men tried to break through a police cordon, hitting security forces and throwing stones at them. The police officers clad in riot gear pushed it back, using shields, truncheons and stun grenades on a blocked street leading to the seized police building.
The protesters retreated but did not disperse. MP Nikol Pashinian, a mainstream opposition leader, arrived at the scene about 30 minutes later to urge them to avoid further confrontation with the police.
“Please calm down,” Pashinian told the police moments. “I do understand that the situation is tense. But please calm down.”
“This was obviously a provocation,” Pashinian told journalists.
The violence broke out after the police effectively rejected the protesters’ demand to deliver food to the gunmen through Pashinian. The gunmen holding four policemen hostage are refusing to accept food from law-enforcement authorities, apparently fearing poisoning.
Samvel Hovannisian, a deputy chief of the Armenian police, said “many” of his officers were injured in the clash. An RFE/RL correspondent also witnessed several injured protesters.
At least 13 people were taken from the scene of the clashes to Yerevan’s Grigor Lusavorich hospital. Doctors there told RFE/RL’s Armenian service (Azatutyun.am) that 11 of them are police officers. Two policemen suffered particularly serious injuries, they said.
A spokeswoman for the Armenian Health Ministry said it has no data yet on the total number of injured persons.
The clash happened on the fourth day of a standoff between the Armenian authorities and the armed members of the Founding Parliament opposition group.
Pashinian made another passionate appeal to the angry protesters later in the evening, pleading with them to exercise restraint. “Our key objective must be to ensure that there are no more casualties,” he said through a megaphone. “Even if they [police] throw stones at you, do not respond,” he said.
“Your demonstration must be peaceful,” added the opposition leader who has been in contact with both law-enforcement authorities and the gunmen throughout the standoff.
Although tensions seemingly eased after Pashinian’s appeal, some of the protesters began building barricades on Khorenatsi Street and a nearby avenue at around midnight.