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(AFP) - Russian and Armenian special forces practiced quelling an anti-government uprising at a joint exercise in southern Russia on Monday, an interior ministry spokesman said.

"Russian and Armenian special forces are ready to fulfill the tasks they are set," Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev was quoted by the spokesman as saying after watching the exercises involving some 1,500 officers near the city of Krasnodar.

In a mock-up of a real protest around 50 demonstrators led by "provocateurs" converged on a square in front of a government building demanding their wages be paid and the authorities' resignation, the spokesman told AFP. Special forces officers intervened as demonstrators burst into the building and took a number of hostages.

The exercises come amid signs of nervousness in the Russian administration following popular uprisings in the three former Soviet republics of Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.

Armenia is Russia's closest ally among the former Soviet republics of the southern Caucasus. It saw scores of anti-government demonstrations in 2003 and 2004 calling for the resignation of President Robert Kocharian after his re-election in what opponents said was a rigged vote in March 2003.
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