Armenian activist's death in prison sparks protests

Several hundred protesters gathered Thursday in the Armenian capital after an activist died in prison while on hunger strike.

Artur Sarkisyan was detained on charges of aiding terrorists by delivering food to armed men who seized a police compound in Yerevan last year.

Sarkisyan died of heart failure earlier Thursday after being transferred to hospital where he underwent emergency surgery, according to Suren Makaryan, one of the doctors who treated him. He had announced a hunger strike after being re-arrested by police in February.

Demonstrators angry about his death marched through downtown Yerevan despite heavy rain, but were stopped from reaching the Justice Ministry by a police cordon. Some shouted slogans accusing Armenian President Serzh Sargsyan of being responsible for Sarkisyan's death, while others called for the resignations of the justice and health ministers.

The unrest comes ahead of a parliamentary election scheduled for April 2.

Another demonstration in central Yerevan was planned for Friday, protester Shagen Arutyunyan said.

Two people died and several wounded in a two-week standoff in July when about 30 armed members of a radical opposition group took hostages and barricaded themselves inside a police station. Sarkisyan was accused of breaking a police cordon to deliver food to the gunmen.

The violent confrontation triggered political unrest in the Southern Caucasus nation, galvanizing the opposition movement and leading to repeated clashes between protesters and police.


This story has been corrected from an earlier version to show that Sarkisyan died Thursday, not Wednesday.