On March 1, the conflict over the disputed outcome of last month's presidential elections in Armenia turned deadly when riot police and Interior Ministry troops clashed with armed opposition demonstrators in the capital city. Dozens of people were killed or injured in downtown Yerevan, where tens of thousands of Armenians had engaged in round-the-clock street protests and established a makeshift tent camp. The incident apparently started with a police tracer bullet accidentally ricocheted and killed a demonstrator, enraging the protesters to attack the police.
The government responded to the melee by declaring a state of emergency in the capital and mobilizing the army to end the mass rallies that had characterized Yerevan since the losing candidates accused President Robert Kocharian of manipulating the results of the Feb. 19 election. They claimed that Kocharian, prevented by the constitution from running for a third term, resorted to buying votes, rigging ballots, and using government resources, such as the state-run media, to support the campaign of his preferred candidate, incumbent Prime Minister Serge Sarkisian.
Armenia's central electoral commission declared that Sarkisian won the election outright in the first round with 53 percent of the vote, with former Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrosian, the main opposition candidate, receiving only 21.5 percent. Former speaker of the parliament, Artur Baghdasarian, obtained 17.7 percent of the eligible votes.