Authorities in ex-Soviet Armenia imposed a state of emergency Saturday after rising tension over a disputed presidential election erupted into violent clashes between protesters and riot police.
The state of emergency will be in effect in the capital Yerevan until March 20 under a decree signed by President Robert Kocharian, his office said.
"In order to end the threat to order and to defend the law and rights of the people, I declare a state of emergency in Yerevan from March 1 to March 20," the decree stated, a presidential spokesman told AFP.
Protesters and riot police clashed Saturday in Yerevan with demonstrators throwing Molotov cocktails and stones and police firing tear gas and automatic weapons into the air.
Shortly after the clashes began, riot police charged into the crowd of at least 6,000 protesters who had gathered in a central square in the Armenian capital in defiance of a crackdown earlier in the day.
After the clash, dozens of automobiles could be seen burning in the streets and shops were looted in the city centre.
"We protested peacefully without hurting anyone, then they attacked us. This is our answer," said one protester among the looters, Arsen Nikaelian.
A police spokesman said eight police officers had received gunshot wounds during the unrest and that several were in a serious condition.
Several protesters could be seen with head injuries and burns, but there was no official information on casualties among the demonstrators.
Hundreds of protesters remained on the square, gathered round campfires to keep warm, until opposition leaders called on them to disperse, reading out opposition chief Levon Ter-Petrosian's address urging them to respect the state of emergency.
Only some 15 people still remained on the square after the appeal, witnesses said, while police watched from a distance.
Meanwhile, 15 people were detained for violating the state of emergency's rules, the prosecutor general's office said. (AFP)
State of emergency imposed in Armenian capital after clashes