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A leading international human rights organization has demanded that the Armenian government launch a “prompt and independent” investigation” into the bloody confrontation between security forces and opposition demonstrators in Yerevan that left at least eight people dead.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it is also “deeply concerned” by reports from journalists and local observers that many other protesters have gone missing.

“The Armenian government should swiftly investigate whether the police and army used lethal force against protesters in accordance with international standards,” Holly Cartner, HRW’s Europe and Central Asia director said in a Sunday statement. “While the government has a duty to maintain civic order, lethal force may only be used when strictly necessary to protect life.”

Under a United Nations convention, lethal force may only be used against violent protesters only when less extreme means are insufficient to protect the life of law-enforcement officers and other citizens.

Citing witness accounts, HRW suggested that riot police may themselves have provoked violence by firing trace bullets in the direction of thousands of people who barricaded themselves on a major street intersection outside the Yerevan mayor’s office. “Violent clashes broke out, according to eyewitnesses, when a tracer bullet apparently struck and killed a demonstrator,” it said. “Angry demonstrators cried for revenge and attacked the security forces.”

“A local observer who watched a video recording of the events told Human Rights Watch that the video showed how demonstrators, demanding revenge, placed the dead body of a man, apparently in his 50s, on top of a car,” added the HRW statement.

The Armenian authorities insist that it is the demonstrators who opened fire first before attacking security forces, burning down police vehicles and looting nearby shops. The Office of the Prosecutor-General said on Monday that a police officer was among at least eight people killed in the unprecedented violence. The law-enforcement agency identified all of them in a statement posted on its website.

“Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned by reports from journalists and local observers that many demonstrators have gone missing,” the New York-based group said. “In the current state of emergency, with an effective media blackout, relatives have little access to information about their missing family members.”

(Photolur photo: The scene of the protest pictured on Sunday morning.)
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