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Armenia campaign rally blast hurts 144 - officials
YEREVAN (Reuters) - More than 140 people were hurt at a campaign rally in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Friday, when hundreds of small balloons went up in flames, burning people and sparking panic, two days before an election, an emergency official said.
Gas-filled balloons appeared to have exploded after being ignited by a cigarette at the rally, staged by the ruling Republican Party in Republic Square in the centre of Yerevan, local media said.
"I heard an explosion and saw flames rising high," said a 30-year-old woman who identified herself as Susan. "People rushed away from the square, and I saw a man with a burnt face and a girl whose back was on fire."
A video posted online by Internet television station Panorama.am showed a large but short-lived flame billowing in the middle of the crowd where hundred of white balloons had been flying moments before.
Health Minister Harutyun Kushkyan told state television many people were injured in the chaos as people tried to flee. She described the condition of the injured as "satisfactory".
Opinion polls have shown the Republican Party and its coalition ally, Prosperous Armenia, winning more than 60 percent of the votes in Sunday's parliamentary election, signalling little or no change in government.
The 2008 presidential elections in Armenia - a landlocked ex-Soviet republic of 3.2 million that is Russia's main ally in the South Caucasus - were marred by violent clashes between opposition protesters and police.
(Reporting by Hasmik Mkrtchan; Writing by Alexei Anishchuk; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
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