Police, protestors clash as Armenia standoff continues

Armenian opposition supporters shout and gesture in front of riot police blocking the streets to Erebuni police station seized by gunmen - supporters of fringe jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilyan - in Yerevan early on July 28, 2016 (AFP Photo/Karen Minasyan)

Yerevan (AFP) - Armenian police exchanged gunfire Friday with an armed pro-opposition group holding hostages for a twelfth day and clashed with thousands of protesters supporting the gunmen, said an AFP photographer at the scene.

Several protestors were hurt in the skirmishes near the police building where hostages have been held since July 17. They were taken away in ambulances as police broke up the demonstration, showed a live video from the scene.

Radio Liberty, a US-funded broadcaster, said police beat some of its journalists with truncheons and damaged their equipment.

Three of the gunmen were wounded during an earlier shootout Friday, with two taken to hospital under armed guard, police spokesman Ashot Aharonyan wrote on Facebook.

Gunfire echoed around the police building throughout the evening.

Police armed with shields and truncheons deployed smoke and sound bombs against the protesters who chanted "Free independent Armenia!" and "Serzh, leave!" referring to President Serzh Sarkisian, who has led the country since 2008.

The gunmen -- supporters of fringe jailed opposition leader Zhirair Sefilyan -- stormed the police building on July 17, killing one officer, taking several more hostage and seizing a store of weapons.

They have since released all the police but on Wednesday took four medical staff hostage who entered the compound to treat wounded gunmen.

One of the medics has since been released, while 24 gunmen are still inside with three medics.

Another gunman Araik Handonyan, nicknamed Lone Wolf, was wounded in the leg earlier Friday but refused to go to hospital, the police spokesman said.

The US embassy in Yerevan in a statement said it was "deeply troubled by the ongoing hostage situation."

It called for "the immediate, safe, and unconditional release of medical personnel held captive since Wednesday, and any others who may wish to leave the police building."

Sefilyan -- the leader of a small opposition group named the New Armenia Public Salvation Front -- and six of his supporters were arrested in June accused of preparing to seize government buildings and telecoms facilities in Yerevan.

The fierce government critic was previously arrested in 2006 after calling for "a violent overthrow of the government" and jailed for 18 months.