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Anti-govt. protests continue in Armenia amid standoff at police building

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Protesters block a street leading to a police station seized by gunmen in Yerevan early on July 31, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

A standoff between gunmen and police in Armenia continues into its 14th day, as thousands of anti-government protesters take to the streets once again to support the gunmen.

Anti-government protesters took to streets in the capital, Yerevan, on Saturday evening in support of the gunmen who have been holding the Regiment of Armenian Patrol-Guard Service building in Yerevan since July 17.

The anti-government protesters also demanded the resignation of President Serzh Sarkisian.

Similar demonstrations over the past days turned violent after anti-riot police attempted to disperse the protesters using truncheons, stun grenades and smoke bombs.

The gunmen demand the release of Zhirair Sefilyan, a jailed Lebanese-born Armenian military commander and main political opposition figure.

An armed man speaks to the press as his fellow pro-opposition gunmen release the final four police officers held captive, in Yerevan, Armenia, July 23, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

The country has been in turmoil since the group of the pro-opposition gunmen stormed the building and took hostages, including a number of high-ranking officers.

Officials say all the hostages have been released but the gunmen still hold the police building.

“Two medics, who were the remaining hostages, left the seized building yesterday evening,” said Health Ministry spokeswoman Anahit Haytayan on Sunday.

However, explosions have been heard from inside the compound.

Authorities on Saturday had warned they had the right to use force against the group, which calls itself Sasna Tsrer, but have not yet begun to storm the building.

The gunmen were said to have seized a cache of weapons and killed a police officer upon the raid on the building. One of the gunmen, Varuzhan Avetisyan, on Sunday denied killing the officer, however.

The gunmen say the officer killed could have been shot by police snipers by mistake.

They also denied holding medical staff hostages and said they were in the compound to treat the wounded of their own volition.

Meanwhile, a coordination council for organizing rallies in support of the gunmen has ceased its activities.

Most of the council’s members are either arrested or detained “and are also unable to carry on for some other reasons,” council representative Albert Bagdasaryan wrote on his Facebook page.

He called on people trusted by the public “to assume the responsibility of leading the movement.”

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