4 police hostages released in Armenia; standoff continues

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — The gunmen who seized a police station in the Armenian capital of Yerevan and held hostages for nearly a week released all four of their captives Saturday but refused to end their occupation of the building.

The standoff began July 17 when armed men stormed a police station, killing one officer and taking others hostage. They are demanding the release of an opposition figure who was arrested last month.

Two police officers were released in the morning unconditionally and the other two — the national deputy police chief and the deputy chief for Yerevan — were released after authorities agreed to allow the gunmen direct access to journalists.

The men who seized the station are refusing to give up their weapons and are calling on people who support their demands to gather in large numbers near the station. Demonstrators in the area have at times numbered in the thousands and there were stone-throwing clashes with police on Wednesday.

“The people are 100 meters from us, we’re in contact with them and if more people come, then the movement will take on structural form and in a short time we will get what we are dreaming of,” one gunmen, Varuzhan Avetisian, told journalists who were allowed into the station.

Along with seeking the release of Jirair Sefilian, a leader of the opposition movement Founding Parliament, the gunmen are calling for a new government that would exclude members of the governing Republican Party and for reducing the powers of President Serzh Sargsyan, Avetisian said.

Sefilian was arrested in June on charges of stockpiling illegal weapons. Authorities say his group was believed to be planning attacks on government buildings and the city’s television transmission tower.