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Armenian Police Stop Minister From Visiting Gunmen In Occupied Building

  • RFE/RL's Armenian Service

Armenian Health Minister Armen Muradyan on July 27 was blocked by police from trying to meet with a group of gunmen who are occupying a police building in Yerevan and have taken four medics hostage.

Muradyan's spokeswoman Anait Aitayan said the minister "wanted to resolve the situation and familiarize himself with the situation on the spot but was not allowed to."

A health ministry spokesman said later on Facebook that one of the medics had been freed.

"Three other health professionals, two doctors and a nurse, are still being held," he said.

Police told reporters the decision to prevent Muradyan from entering the occupied building was made for safety reasons.

The medics had entered the building overnight to treat two gunmen who were injured in a shootout with police late on July 26 and refused to go to hospital.

Pavel Manukian (file photo)

Pavel Manukian (file photo)

Armenian police spokesman Ashot Aharonian confirmed on July 27 that Pavel Manukian, the leader of the armed group, and his son Aram Manukian were also wounded in the overnight shoot-out -- which reportedly began when police tried to move inside the grounds around the occupied building.

Manukian and his son, who both face charges of seizing buildings and possessing illegal weapons, were taken to a hospital with severe leg injuries.

Lawyer Inessa Petrossi said Arman Manukian was remanded in custody for two months after a court on July 27 approved a request for his detention by the investigative department of Armenia's National Security Service.

Investigators also have demanded the arrest of Pavel Manukian. But it was not clear when the court would hear his case.

He was receiving artificial lung ventilation at the intensive care unit of Yerevan's Erebuni medical center on July 27 after undergoing surgery overnight.

Those remaining inside the building said on June 27 that they would release the medics in exchange for doctors who are able to perform surgery on the wounded gunmen.

The armed group -- supporters of jailed opposition leader Zhirayr Sefilian from the Founding Parliament movement -- are members of a faction called Sasna Tsrer.

Most are veterans of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict in the late 1980s and early 1990s. As veterans of that war, they are considered heroes by many Armenians.

Zhirayr Sefilian in 2013

Zhirayr Sefilian in 2013

They are demanding the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian over the way he has handled the long-running conflict concerning Azerbaijan's breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, a territory that both Yerevan and Baku claim.

They are also demanding the release of Sefilian, who was arrested along with six of his supporters on June 20 on illegal weapons charges.

The gunmen stormed the Erebuni regimental police headquarters on July 17, killing one officer and taking several more hostage.

All of their initial hostages were released by July 23 but the gunmen have remained holed up inside the building surrounded by security forces.

Thousands of supporters have been staging daily protest marches to urge authorities not to launch a deadly raid against them.

With reporting by AFP and Interfax
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