YEREVAN, Armenia - Hundreds of troops flooded Armenia's capital yesterday to enforce a state of emergency after clashes between opposition activists and government forces left eight people dead and more than 100 injured.
The bloodshed over the results of last month's presidential election is the worst political crisis to hit this volatile former Soviet republic in nearly a decade. A European envoy rushed to Armenia to mediate the conflict, while the United States urged both sides to exercise restraint.
President Robert Kocharian declared the 20-day state of emergency Saturday night following a day of violence between police and demonstrators who the Feb. 19 election was fraudulently won by Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian.
Police fired warning shots and tear gas to disperse thousands of demonstrators Saturday after using clubs earlier in the day to break up a tent camp where hundreds of protesters had stayed for more than a week.
Seven civilians and one officer were killed and at least 131 protesters and troops were wounded, officials said.
Authorities accused some protesters of shooting at police. Health Ministry spokeswoman Russian Gevorkian said 16 troops had suffered bullet wounds, the Interfax news agency reported. The opposition denied using weapons.
The demonstrators support opposition candidate and former president Levon Ter-Petrosian, who finished a distant second to Sarkisian in the election's official results.
Ter-Petrosian was being prevented from leaving his residence by government forces, though no charges had been filed against him.
He called on his supporters to go home and refrain from further protests while the emergency order is in place. He vowed to continue efforts to force a new election once it is lifted and has appealed to the nation's Constitutional Court to overturn the results.
"We shall not retreat. Acting within the law, within the framework of the constitution, we shall struggle to the end, until the removal of this hateful and criminal regime, this bandit, and kleptocratic regime," Ter-Petrosian told reporters in his house in central Yerevan.
Hundreds of soldiers wearing bulletproof vests and carrying assault rifles patrolled streets littered with burned cars, broken shop windows, and looted kiosks.
Several major streets were closed. Troops were warning residents by loudspeaker not to gather in groups.
Police said the protesters were plotting a violent coup. Opposition spokesman Arman Musinian, however, claimed the grenades and pistols - later shown on Armenia's state television stacked carefully in the bushes surrounding the tent camp - had been planted.
Some 15,000 protesters regrouped later in the day, only to be broken up again by police.
Groups of angry demonstrators then marched around town, looting shops and setting cars ablaze.
At least 55 people were detained during the day's unrest, said Sona Truzian, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor general's office. Fifteen were later formally arrested.
Ter-Petrosian said all those arrested were his close allies.