EU sends envoy to mediate in Armenian unrest

(dpa) - The European Union has Monday offered to mediate in the post-election crisis and violent unrest in Armenia that has left at least eight dead in the Caucasus republic, according to local media.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana, after speaking with Armenian President Robert Kocharian on Sunday, has asked his special envoy for the south Caucasus, Peter Semneby, to go to Yerevan on his behalf.

Eight people, including a policeman, were killed in clashes Sunday between police and opposition protestors that led the president to declare a 20-day state of emergency.

Witnesses said that Armenian security forces used truncheons, fired into the air and released tear gas to disperse 15,000 protestors against the alleged government rigging of February 19 presidential elections.

Local media reported dozens of injured opposition supporters of failed presidential candidate Levon Ter-Petrosian, while the police said 33 of its members were hurt.

Armoured vehicles and troops with assault rifles were patrolling the capital Yerevan after outgoing President Kocharian declared a state of emergency. The declaration was upheld by parliament which is led by the vote winner, Prime Minister Serzh Sarkisian.

The small Caucasus state of 3.2 million has emerged as a strategically important region, lying along gas routes from the energy-rich Caspian Sea region to Europe and being a close partner of Iran.

Western powers fear instability in the region could disrupt gas routes and further undermine a fragile security situation with Armenia's neighbours Georgia, Azerbaijan and Turkey.

Sunday's violence was the worst in Armenia's post-Soviet history, causing Ter-Petrosian to call for a 20-day halt to demonstrations in a radio address blared through loudspeakers on cars driven through the city centre.

Ter-Petrosian refuses to accept official results which showed him with 21.43 per cent of the vote, far behind Prime Minister Sarkisian who won just over the 50-per-cent hurdle needed to avoid a run-off with the second-place finisher.

The opposition has lodged an appeal with the Constitutional Court to invalidate the results, complaining of mass voting violations, including the beating and kidnapping of its supporters at the polls.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's vote-monitoring arm declared the elections mostly in adherence with international standards.

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