Armenia police station siege ends as 20 gunmen surrender

Armenia police station siege ends as 20 gunmen surrender

Armenia police station siege ends as 20 gunmen surrender

Armed men pose in front of a van with Armenian national flags outside a seized police station in Yerevan, Armenia, Saturday, July 23, 2016. AP photo

Twenty anti-government gunmen who were holed up in an Armenian police station for two weeks surrendered on July 31, security services said, ending a tense stand-off that left two police officers dead and triggered mass protests.

The armed men gave themselves up a day after police warned they would storm the building to draw a line under the crisis, which had sparked at times violent demonstrations by opposition supporters in the capital Yerevan.

“The security forces’ anti-terrorist operation has ended and led to the members of the armed group laying down their weapons and surrendering to the authorities,” the national security service said in a statement, according to AFP.

“Twenty terrorists were arrested,” it said.

“The territory of the police station has been liberated.” 

During the fortnight-long drama the armed men also took hostages, freeing the final two, both medics, late July 30.

They said they were demanding the release of jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilyan and the resignation of Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan, a former communist party leader who came to power in 2008.

An Armenian website had earlier July 31 published what it said was a statement from one of the gunmen inside the police station, saying they were ready to surrender.

“We will continue our struggle from prison. We believe that we have achieved our goal: we became the spark that allowed people to rise up and it makes no sense to spill blood,” Varuzhan Avetisyan was quoted as saying.

The gunmen, which calls itself “Sasna Tsrer,” plunged Armenia into turmoil when they stormed the police station in Yerevan on July 17, killing an officer and taking several others hostage.

The armed men included veterans of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh with neighboring Azerbaijan, and were seen as national heroes by their supporters, who want the government to pursue a harder line on the issue.

Violence erupted at a rally on Friday, when police used truncheons, stun grenades and smoke bombs to disperse the crowds. More than 70 people were injured, including journalists, and dozens were arrested.  

The United States and the European Union both voiced concern over the unrest.