Balloons expode at Armenia rally; more than 140 injured

MOSCOW -- More than 140 people suffered burns or other injuries Friday in Yerevan, the capital city of Armenia,  when bunches of balloons at a concert and political rally exploded.

The balloons were supposed to be filled with helium but may have instead been filled with methane, said  Aghasi Yenokyan, director of the Center for Political and International Studies, a Yerevan-based think tank.

The incident occurred in downtown Republic Square during events organized by the ruling Republican Party of Armenia as part of the parliamentary election campaign.

During the concert, teenagers were holding hundreds of balloons in their hands when they suddenly exploded in a huge ball of fire. Dozens of people were taken by ambulances to various city hospitals, and then the show went on again.

Nikolay Grigoryan, deputy chief of the Armenian Emergency Service, told Russian RIA Novosty agency that the balloons may have been ignited by a cigarette.

“At first I thought that it was part of the show when I saw a huge halo of fire over the crowd in front of the stage, but then I saw people running and screaming,” said Yelena Manukyan, a 36-year-old office manager. “On some of them,  the clothes were burned and they were holding their hands over their heads and faces.”

Fragments of burned balloons flew in all directions over the dense crowd and caused burns to many people, Manukyan said.  

 A representative of the Armenian Health Ministry, Shushan Unanyan, told RIA Novosti that some of injured suffered burns and others were hurt during the panic in the square. 

After the accident,  Armenian President Serge Sargsyan briefly addressed the remaining audience, then left to visit injured people in hospitals, Yenokyan said.

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-- Sergei L. Loiko

 
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