8 killed in Armenian protests

From the Associated Press

Armenian police said eight people were killed and 33 officers injured in clashes between police and protesters demonstrating over alleged election fraud.

Police spokesman Sayat Shirinian announced the deaths in a statement today. He did not say whether the eight killed were protesters or police, or give other details.

Outgoing President Robert Kocharyan imposed a state of emergency late Saturday night after a day of violence between police and about 15,000 demonstrators. Troops and armored vehicles patrolled the main streets of the capital today. The opposition leader has appealed for calm.

Groups of angry youths were prowling the streets Saturday night, calling for others to join them, residents said. Police officials said some of the force's cars had been set on fire. "What's going on now is not a political process. It has gone over the edge," Kocharyan said in a late-night news conference. "I appeal to the people of Armenia to show restraint and understanding."

Kocharyan's office said the state of emergency would remain in effect for 20 days. The measure imposes severe restrictions, including a ban on all mass gatherings and a requirement that news media reports on domestic political matters be based only on official information.

Witnesses said they had seen people injured in one of the rallies. Earlier in the day, Kocharyan had said eight police officers were injured. The Health Ministry said 10 people were hospitalized from an earlier clash.

The opposition has protested the results of the Feb. 19 presidential election and tried to force a new vote. Rallies each day have drawn tens of thousands of people; a few hundred remained at the square each night in tents.

Officials say Serzh Sargsyan, the current prime minister, won the vote. But supporters of opposition candidate Levon Ter-Petrossian have alleged fraud.

Sargsyan is a close colleague of Kocharyan, who is stepping down because the constitution forbids a third term. Opponents allege that the government manipulated the vote count, pressured people to vote for Sargsyan and coerced the media into skewing coverage in his favor.

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