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Armenia: 20 gunmen surrender, police station standoff over

By Avet Demourian Associated Press

YEREVAN, Armenia – All 20 gunmen inside a police compound in Armenia’s capital surrendered Sunday, ending a two-week standoff that left two police officers dead and several wounded on both sides, the security service said.

The standoff involving armed members of a radical opposition group also set off protests that led to unrest in the capital, Yerevan.

The leader of the gunmen barricaded inside the police compound, Varuzhan Avetisyan, said in a telephone interview with local media that they decided to surrender after security forces used armored vehicles to enter the police compound.

Another factor, he said, was that police had started to shoot gunmen who ventured outside. Most were hit in the leg, but a man shot Sunday was hit in the chest, he said.

A total of 31 armed men seized the police compound on July 17 to demand freedom for the leader of the opposition group, who was arrested in June. The group, Founding Parliament, has sharply criticized the government of the former Soviet republic and called for people to take to the streets to force the president and the prime minister to step down.

Several thousand people joined nightly rallies to support the gunmen, occasionally clashing with police. Some of the worst violence took place Friday, when 75 people were injured.

In recent days, four members of the group had surrendered, including two earlier Sunday, and at least seven were wounded.

Avetisyan said the security forces tried to storm the compound Saturday night and used a vehicle to smash a wall, but then retreated. On Sunday, “there was intense shooting, stun grenades exploded and armored vehicles entered the territory,” he said.

The gunmen chose to surrender to avoid heavy losses on both sides, he said.

In the initial attack, the gunmen killed one officer and wounded several others. Police accused them of killing a second officer Saturday in a vehicle away from the compound, but Avetisyan denied this.

The gunmen had held four police officers hostage for a week before releasing them unharmed. They later seized four members of an ambulance crew, but freed the last two Saturday.

On Saturday night, the demonstrators marched down Baghramyan Avenue toward the main government buildings and the presidential residence, but were stopped by riot police, who strung coils of barbed wire across the road. The demonstrators blocked traffic for two hours but dispersed peacefully early Sunday.

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