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144 Armenians injured as balloons explode

Clusters of balloons exploded Friday during a political rally in the central square of Armenia's capital, injuring at least 144 people, authorities said.

The Emergencies Ministry said 104 of them had to be hospitalized with burns after the explosion in Yerevan, which it said was caused by a smoker who lit a cigarette near the balloons.

Health Minister Artyom Pushkian said no one had life-threatening injuries.

The balloons were supposed to be flown at a Republican Party rally that drew tens of thousands ahead of Sunday's parliamentary vote in the former Soviet republic. Despite the accident, Armenian President Serge Sarkisian addressed the rally with a speech.

The Republican Party dominates the parliament of this impoverished Caucasus nation that borders Turkey.