Armenian gunmen 'freed all hostages' in lengthy stand-off

Yerevan (AFP) - Gunmen locked in a lengthy stand-off with police in Armenia have released their last two hostages, an official said Sunday, after a fresh night of protests shook the capital Yerevan.

"Two medics who were the remaining hostages left the seized building yesterday evening," said health ministry spokeswoman Anahit Haytayan.

Armenia has been plunged into turmoil since a group of armed men seized a police compound in Yerevan on July 17, demanding the release of opposition figure Zhirair Sefilyan.

The lengthy siege appeared far from over, with an AFP correspondent reporting explosions from the compound.

The gunmen, who seized a cache of weapons and killed a police officer, initially held four doctors hostage but have gradually freed them.

Authorities on Saturday warned they have the right to use force against the group, which calls itself Sasna Tsrer, but have not yet begun to storm the building.

The hostage crisis has sparked massive protests, with police brutally dispersing thousands demonstrating on Friday evening, injuring scores of people.

Thousands more turned up on Saturday to another protest which ended without violence, although one man set himself on fire after dousing his clothes in gasoline. He was taken to hospital.

On Saturday a police officer was killed by a sniper who authorities said was firing from inside the seized police compound.

One of the gunmen, Varuzhan Avetisyan, on Sunday denied killing the officer.