Soviet troops sent to Armenia to quell ethnic unrest killed at least 20 people in gun battles with Armenian nationalists in and around the republic's capital, an Interior Ministry spokesman said Monday.
The violence exploded in Yerevan as additional Interior Ministry troops arrived in the city.A mass rally was scheduled Monday by the Armenian National Movement to commemorate Armenia's 1918 declaration of independence, said Satenik Paramadjan, a spokesman for the movement. Armenia was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1920.
Rafael Popyan, a leader of the Armenian National Movement, said there were several clashes in Yerevan and its outskirts late Sunday and this morning.
Soviet soldiers "just came into the city shooting," he said.
The first clash occurred Sunday when Soviet troops returning from a patrol were fired upon by Armenian militants at Yerevan's main railroad station, said Soviet Interior Ministry spokesman Yuri Makarov.
The soldiers returned the gunfire, killing five of the attackers, Makarov said. A sixth militant died later at a hospital.
Makarov said 20 Soviet soldiers were wounded in the shootout. The official Tass news agency said one civilian bystander was also hospitalized with bullet wounds.
An Armenian National Movement spokesman disputed the official version of the clash, saying the Soviet soldiers had started it by opening fire on a group of Armenians.
After the railway station shootout, unrest continued throughout the day in Yerevan as crowds in the thousands roamed the streets, according to a duty officer at the Armenian National Movement headquarters in Yerevan contacted by telephone.
The bloodiest clash occurred as a convoy of 15 armored personnel carriers headed toward the city center from a nearby base, Popyan said. He said Soviet troops opened fire on a crowd of people who attempted to block the road the convoy was traveling on with a barricade of parked cars.
According to a preliminary report, 14 civilian gunmen were killed and more than 30 injured in the clash at the barricade, Makarov said.
A busload of Soviet soldiers also fired on the headquarters of the Armenian National Movement early this morning, killing a person sleeping in a car outside, members of the movement said in a telephone interview.
"No one inside was injured, but an activist who was sleeping in his parked car was shot dead," Paramadjan said.