YEREVAN, June 13 — Dozens of demonstrators were injured in the Armenian capital Yerevan yesterday, after police fired stun grenades at an anti-government rally outside parliament, an AFP photographer witnessed.

Several thousand people rallied outside parliament to protest Armenia’s land concessions to arch foe Azerbaijan, as Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan was answering questions from lawmakers inside.

Protests have gripped Yerevan since April, after authorities agreed to hand back to Baku territory Armenia had controlled since the 1990s.

On Wednesday, officers moved in after some of the protesters attempted to break through a police cordon.

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Wounded protesters were being transported to hospitals in ambulances, with some having injuries on their abdomen and legs, according to the AFP journalist.

The country’s medical authorities said at least 79 people had sought medical help.

The interior ministry said 98 protesters had been detained for disobeying police, adding that six officers were among those injured.

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Armenia’s investigative committee said it has launched a probe into “organising mass riots.”

Later in the evening, protesters staged a march towards government headquarters.

The protest leader, archbishop Bagrat Galstanyan, had said earlier it would be a “decisive day” for his bid to oust Pashinyan.

Last month, Armenia returned to Azerbaijan four border villages that it had seized decades earlier — a move Pashinyan has defended as aimed to secure peace with Baku.

The area Armenia has handed back is strategically important for the landlocked country because it controls sections of a vital highway to Georgia.

‘Humiliating concessions’

Armenian residents of nearby settlements say the move cuts them off from the rest of the country and they have accused Pashinyan of giving away territory without getting anything in return.

Addressing the crowd, Galstanyan called the return of the villages an “illegal (border) delimitation”, accusing Pashinyan of “unilateral and humiliating concessions.”

He has temporarily stepped down from his religious post to run for prime minister, despite being not eligible to hold office due to his dual citizenship — Armenian and Canadian.

Pashinyan’s rule has however, so far been unshaken.

Addressing lawmakers Wednesday, the Armenian leader reiterated that Yerevan was ready to sign a peace agreement with Baku “within a month”.

Azerbaijan recaptured the Nagorno-Karabakh region last year, ending three decades of Armenian separatist control.

The enclave’s entire Armenian population — more than 100,000 people — fled for Armenia in the aftermath.

The conflict has soured ties between traditional allies Russia and Armenia, with Yerevan accusing the Kremlin of having failed to protect it against Azerbaijan.

Pashinyan hinted in parliament that Armenia would quit a Russian-led alliance — the Collective Security Treaty Organisation — without providing a clear timeframe.

After the loss of Karabakh, Yerevan has sought to forge new security alliances by deepening ties with the West.

Pashinyan’s remarks in parliament came a day after his Foreign Minister Ararat Mirzoyan and the United States Assistant Secretary of State James O’Brien issued a joint statement saying Washington and Yerevan had agreed to “upgrade the status of our bilateral dialogue to a Strategic Partnership Commission”.

Pashinyan, a former journalist and opposition lawmaker, came to power in a peaceful revolution after leading street protests in 2018. — AFP