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Balloon Fireball Explodes At Armenian Rally
More than 140 people have been hurt after hundreds of gas-filled balloons went up in flames in Armenia.
People scattered as a fireball erupted at a political rally in capital city Yerevan, just days before parliamentary polls.
The balloons appeared to have exploded after being ignited by a cigarette during the event, staged by the ruling Republican Party in Republic Square, reports 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 the 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".
The promotional balloons were decorated with the governing party's election slogan "Let's believe in change".
Opinion polls indicate the Republican Party and its coalition ally, Prosperous Armenia, are set to win more than 60% 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.
The authorities in the mountainous country have promised an unprecedentedly clean contest for the 131-seat National Assembly in the hope of avoiding further political turmoil.
But opposition parties have questioned the validity of the opinion polls and threatened demonstrations if there are mass falsifications.