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Thursday, October 28, 1999 Published at 22:01 GMT 23:01 UK

World: Europe

Armenia in mourning

Security outside the parliament is now very tight

Armenian President Robert Kocharian has declared three days of mourning as he prepares to meet members of parliament to discuss the way forward following the assassination of the prime minister.

Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and seven other politicians were killed in a hail of bullets after gunmen stormed parliament on Wednesday.

The president has the power to appoint a new prime minister, but the new cabinet is unlikely to be named until after the funerals, due to take place on Sunday.

The BBC's Andrew Harding: "A peaceful end to a shocking ordeal"
Deputies in the National Assembly say talks will consider the future of the parliament and the state in general.

The BBC's correspondent in Armenia, James Rodgers, says the main task now for the authorities is to calm any fears of further violence and instability.

[ image: The small, former-Soviet republic is shocked by the killings]
The small, former-Soviet republic is shocked by the killings
The military has demanded the resignation of three top government officials in response to the attack.

A statement from the defence ministry has been repeatedly broadcast on national television blaming Interior Minister Suren Abramyan, the national security minister and the prosecutor-general for the lack of security around the parliament.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency reported Mr Abramyan, a close ally of the prime minister, had handed in his resignation on Thursday.

Mr Abramyan was quoted as saying the resignation was connected with the shootings and was not a reaction to the defence ministry statement.

Security still tight

Troops remain on the streets of the capital, Yerevan, and soldiers backed up by armed personnel carriers man check points along the main routes into the city.

[ image: Gunmen released their captives on Thursday morning]
Gunmen released their captives on Thursday morning
The four gunmen, who also took 40 MPs hostage following the assassinations, have been charged with terrorist offences

They are now being interrogated by the Armenian State Security Service. The investigation is trying to determine their motive and whether they acted alone.

The gunmen stormed parliament during a question-and-answer session. They surrendered early on Thursday, handing over their weapons and releasing their hostages.

The MPs left the parliament building stunned but safe after their terrifying ordeal.

The deal to end the stand-off was clinched after overnight negotiations between President Kocharian and the leader of the gunmen.

Mr Kocharian went on television to say he was ready to guarantee the gunmen a fair trial, and that no violence would be used against them if they released the hostages unharmed.

In a recorded statement broadcast shortly before their surrender, the gunmen accused the government of pursuing disastrous political and economic policies, which they said had ruined Armenia.

Armenian separatists fought a war with Azerbaijan in Karabakh before a ceasefire in 1994 and the two countries have recently held talks to end the dispute.

Armenia became an independent republic following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and has since endured years of political instability.

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