Hostage standoff in Yerevan enters third day

By bne IntelliNews July 19, 2016

Three of the eight hostages held at a police station in the Armenian capital of Yerevan were released during the second day of a standoff between a fringe opposition group and the police, according to the country's National Security Service (NSS).

The standoff began at dawn on July 17, when a dozen armed men stormed a police station in Yerevan using a truck, and occupied the station after an armed attack. One police officer was killed and three were wounded in the exchange of fire, as well as some of the attackers.

Officials have been negotiating with the group, which demands the release of opposition politician Jiray Sefilian and of other political prisoners, as well as a regime change in Armenia. Police have cordoned off the area, and blocked access to the road leading to the police station.

Authorities have reportedly refrained from using force during the negotiations, but have arrested some 50 people on the streets of Yerevan during raids on July  17 who were unrelated to the incident. They were later released.

On July 18, the riot police stopped a group of 100 people who wanted to march to the police station in order to show support to the attackers. The leaders of the demonstration were arrested in the city's Freedom Square. The first deputy chief of the Armenian police, Hunan Poghosian, arrived at the square and urged people to avoid "imprudent" actions and to "create unnecessary tension".

Those gathered in Freedom Square criticised the government's abuse of power, corruption, and impunity for driving people to take extreme actions, like the occupation of the police station, according to Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty's Armenian service. Civil activists critical of the government were also reportedly arrested in other cities, including Gyumri and Vanadzor, on July 17.

Authorities have been trying to control the flow of information about the attack by blocking social media on July 17. Pro-government TV channels were running movies instead of footage from the scene. Meanwhile, a Georgian TV channel showed a military aircraft flying over central Yerevan, Eurasianet reports. 

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