Scores hurt as balloons explode at Armenia rally

Media caption,
Video footage shows a huge fireball as the ballons exploded

Scores of people have been injured in the Armenian capital Yerevan after clusters of gas balloons exploded at a political rally.

Crowds were attending a government campaign event in the city's central square ahead of parliamentary polls.

Health officials said some 144 people had been injured, with over 100 taken to hospital with burns, none of which are thought to be life-threatening.

Officials blamed the explosions on a cigarette being lit near the balloons.

Health ministry spokesperson Shushan Hananyan told the Novosti Armeniya news agency that some of the injured were hurt in the panic after the blast.

There was chaos as people tried to escape the flames, the BBC's Damien McGuinness reports from neighbouring Georgia.

Video on Armenian websites showed people screaming and running away, some of them with their clothes on fire.

"People rushed away from the square, and I saw a man with a burnt face and a girl whose back was on fire," one eyewitness told Reuters.

However, so far most of the injuries appear to be light burns, our correspondent adds.

Despite the incident, President Serge Sarkisian went on to address thousands of people at the rally.

The balloons were decorated with the governing Republican Party's slogan "Let's believe in change".

Armenia is due to hold parliamentary elections on Sunday.

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