AFP — A policemen was killed as an armed Armenian group with links to a jailed opposition leader seized a police building in Yerevan on Sunday and took hostages, demanding the president’s resignation.
“A group of armed men entered the premises of a police regiment in Yerevan and is holding hostages under the threat of violence,” Armenia’s National Security Service said in a statement.
“One policeman was killed and two others wounded. Two hostages were freed,” it said.
One of the gunmen said on social media that the hostages included the country’s deputy police chief.
Nikol Pashinyan, a lawmaker in Armenia’s parliament who met the hostage takers, told journalists that the group had taken eight police hostage but then released a hostage who was suffering from high blood pressure.
“The Armenian state continues to operate normally, police carry out their duties to protect public order and security,” the security service said, dismissing rumors on social networks that a coup was underway.
Media reports said that the group was demanding the release of Zhirair Sefilyan, an opposition politician who was arrested last month for alleged procession of firearms.
“We demand the release of Zhirair Sefilyan, we will only obey his orders. Sarkisian must resign,” one of the group members, Varuzhan Avetisyan, wrote on Facebook, referring to Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian.
He said that two top police officers, Armenia’s deputy police chief General Major Vardan Egiazaryan and Yerevan deputy police chief Colonel Valeri Osipyan, were being held hostage.
One of the gunmen, named as Tatul Tamrazyan, has been “seriously wounded,” Avetisyan wrote.
The group later released a video on Facebook, calling on Armenians to take to the streets against the government.
The video showed several men in flak jackets and armed with Kalashnikovs as well as several hostages being held inside the police building.
“We are doing this for you. People, take to the streets!” one of the gunmen, Areg Kuregyan said in the video. “We demand the release of all political prisoners.”
“Join us! For now, we are holding the positions. We will stand as long as we can,” another gunman said in the video statement.
Military and police cordons were blocking streets around the Erebuni station on Sunday afternoon with vehicles including an armoured personnel vehicle, an AFP photographer witnessed.
— Abraxas Spa (@AbraxasSpa) July 17, 2016
Sefilyan, the leader of a small opposition group, the New Armenia Public Salvation Front, and six of his supporters were arrested in June after the authorities said they were preparing a plot to seize several government buildings and telecommunication facilities in Yerevan.
A fierce government critic, Sefilyan was arrested in 2006 over calls for “a violent overthrow of the government” and jailed for 18 months. He was released in 2008.
Last year, Sefilyan and several of his supporters were arrested again on suspicion of preparing a coup, but released shortly afterwards.
A shrewd former military officer, Sarkisian has been president of the tiny country of 2.9 million since winning a vote in 2008 that saw bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate in which 10 people died.