Armenia Hostage Drama Ends

After marathon negotiations with the President Robert Kocharyan, gunmen who burst into ArmeniaÂ's parliament and killed several top officials have freed their hostages and surrendered to police. All told, at least eight people -- including the prime minister and several top officials -- were killed when the building was seized by the attackers.

Â"All the hostages are free,Â" said presidential spokeswoman Hasmik Petrosyan. Â"The gunmen were arrested and taken to the Security Ministry.Â"

A bus flanked by armored vehicles took away the gunmen and some of the former hostages, while other captives calmly left the building on foot.

As part of the deal to end the standoff, a recorded statement by the gunmen was broadcast on national TV before they gave up.

The leader, Nairi Unanian, an ardent nationalist and former journalist, accused Kocharian's government of allowing the country to disintegrate. He also accused the country's elite of bleeding the economy dry with corruption and called for a national renewal to restore pride and prosperity.

Â"We wanted to save the Armenian people from perishing and restore their rights,Â" he said in the recorded statement. Â"Those responsible for robbing the country must face trial along with us.Â"

Police and military personnel surround the parliament building during the hostage standoff Wednesday.
Armed with Kalashnikov rifles, the gunmen had burst into parliament on Wednesday, killing Prime Minister Vazgen Sarksyan, parliamentary Speaker Karen Demirchyan and his two deputies, Yuri Bakhshyan and Ruben Miroyan. Operative Issues Minister Leonard Petrosyan, two members of parliament and the former editor of a newspaper were also killed.

The release of the twenty-five hostages was preceded by twin statements by Kocharyan and the gunmen, read by announcers on national television.

Â"I guarantee a fair trial to the gunmen if they lay down arms and free their hostages. Law enforcement bodies handling the crisis will not allow reprisals. I guarantee that there will be no violent treatment,Â" Kocharyan's statement said.

The gunmen's statement said: Â"All we need are guarantees that there will be no violence.Â"

Unanian had said in his broadcast statement that he had not wanted to kill anybody, just scare lawmakers. But earlier he said the killing of the prime minister had been deliberate. He also claimed that parliament guards had opened fire, forcing the gunmen to fire back.

The Defense Ministry on Thursday demanded the prosecutor-general, interior minister and national security service chief be fired over the killings.

Â"We express indignation over the fact that the gnmen could get into the parliament building unimpeded. The crime has demonstrated the incompetence of the security services,Â" the ministry said in a statement.

There was no explanation of how the gunmen were able to get into the parliament chamber. They apparently hid their automatic rifles under long overcoats.

Unanian went up to the premier and said, Â"Enough of drinking our blood,Â" the reporters said. Sarkisian calmly responded, Â"Everything is being done for you and the future of your children.Â"

Unanian then opened fire, the reporters said.

The assault drew international condemnation. The U.N. General Assembly observed a minute of silence and President Clinton, who said he was Â"shocked and saddenedÂ" by the attack, called the incident a Â"real blowÂ" to the region.

Sarkisian, a 40-year-old former athletic instructor and Soviet propaganda official, was appointed premier by Kocharian in June.

Sarkisian was an ally of Demirchian, who was Armenia's Soviet-era leader. The two headed the hard-line Unity party.

The prime minister is appointed by the president, so an election will not be needed to fill the post.

Armenia, like many ex-Soviet republics, has been mired in economic chaos for years, stuck between the failed Soviet system and largely unsuccessful efforts to build a market economy. Corruption is rampant, with some officials allegedly diverting public funds.

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