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Hundreds Protest In Armenia After Activist Dies

A protester holds a picture of Artur Sarkisian at a rally in Yerevan on March 17.
A protester holds a picture of Artur Sarkisian at a rally in Yerevan on March 17.

Several hundred people gathered for the second day in Armenia's capital, Yerevan, to protest the death of an activist who passed away just days after being released from prison following a 25-day hunger strike.

Artur Sarkisian, 49, died of heart failure on March 16 after being moved to a hospital for emergency surgery, one of the doctors who treated him said.

The protesters demanded a full investigation into the death of Sarkisian, who was in prison on charges of aiding opposition gunmen last summer.

They marched through downtown Yerevan on March 17 but were stopped by police from reaching the Justice Ministry.

Some shouted slogans accusing Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian (no relation) of being responsible for Sarkisian's death, while others called for the resignation of the justice and health ministers.

The protests come ahead of parliamentary elections on April 2.

Investigators said they have opened a criminal case into his death, while Prime Minister Karen Karapetian said on March 17 he was experiencing "deep pain" about what happened.

Sarkisian had been accused of delivering food to armed members of a radical opposition group during their two-week standoff with security forces.

During the two-week standoff last July, two police officers were killed and several were injured, after about 30 armed members of the Founding Parliament radical opposition group took hostages and barricaded themselves inside a police station.

They were demanding the release from prison of their leader and the resignation of the Armenian government.

Sarkisian surrendered on July 31 along with the remaining gunmen holed up in the compound.

He was released in December on health grounds, but was rearrested on February 9 and began a hunger strike. He was released on March 6 only after six opposition lawmakers posted bail for him.

Based on reporting by AP and RFE/RL’s Armenian Service

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