The ruling Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) defended on Saturday its controversial decision to continue a campaign rally in Yerevan after gas balloons held by its mostly young activists exploded, injuring more than 150 people.
According to the Armenian Ministry of Emergencies, 80 of the 154 people hospitalized from the city’s main Republic Square late on Friday remained in hospitals as of Saturday afternoon. A ministry statement said 25 of them were in intensive care.
Health Minister Harutiun Kushkian told Armenian state television that none of them suffered life-threatening burns in the explosions which caused a huge ball of flames.
The HHK event, which mainly involved live performances by Armenian pop stars, continued despite panic and chaos that followed the blasts.
The party’s election campaign manager, Hovik Abrahamian, attributed that to security considerations. “Seconds after the incident we quickly consulted with police officials and experts who strongly insisted that stopping the event at that point could lead to more serious consequences,” he told News.am.
“Even if there had been no panic and if the crowd that gathered in the square had dispersed at that point, there would have been serious traffic congestion and ambulances would not have been able to transport victims to medical institutions,” he said.
“For organizing the transportation of victims we were asked to keep the crowd in the square for at least 40 minutes, until the last victim is taken to hospital, which is what we did,” added Abrahamian.
Abrahamian did not explain why President Serzh Sarkisian, the HHK leader, made no mention of the blasts in a campaign speech delivered in Republic Square shortly after the unprecedented incident.
While defending the party’s response, the HHK campaign chief noted that the Armenian authorities will learn lessons from the emergency. “We seriously need to regulate issues of security at events of such scale, and we will do that in the near future,” he said.
The Armenian police, meanwhile, made no statements Saturday on the results of their inquiry into the blasts. Police officials suggested on Friday that the balloons were accidentally ignited by a cigarette or lighter.