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Arrests follow Yerevan market explosion

29 August 2022
Photo: OC Media.

Four people have been arrested almost two weeks after a deadly explosion in Yerevan’s Surmalu market left 16 people dead.

On Friday, the Investigative Committee said they had arrested the deputy head of the Yerevan Canning Factory, which operates the Surmalu shopping centre and a businessperson who rented a space in the centre. They were charged with violating fire safety rules leading to death, punishable by up to eight years in prison.

Two unnamed employees were also charged with causing death by negligence, punishable by up to five years in prison.

The deputy director of the centre was released on bail on Saturday, while the other three have been placed in pre-trial detention.

The deadly explosion on 14 August occurred in a warehouse storing fireworks and left dozens of people hospitalised.

One person remains missing despite over a week of search and rescue operations, which were halted on 24 August. Vanik Amirkhanyan, 55, who worked at the shopping centre, has not been seen since the explosion.

The Prosecutor of Yerevan requested that operations of the Surmalu market be shut down on 25 August. They have also begun examining the storage conditions of fireworks and other explosive materials throughout the capital. 

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Violations of safety regulations in the Surmalu shopping centre were previously found back in 2021, but a follow-up inspection to check if the issues had been resolved was not conducted before the explosion. 

According to official information, 36 companies suffered losses in the explosion, leading to calls for the government to compensate for property damages. 

However, the government has ruled this out, arguing that businesses and entrepreneurs should have purchased insurance, but had not done so because they ‘did not consider themselves at high risk’. The government also said they would not compensate the owners of uninsured vehicles damaged or destroyed in the blast.

One entrepreneur who claimed to have lost over ֏300 million ($740,000) told RFE/RL that if compensation was not forthcoming, they would take the issue to court. 

The government has announced they intend to pay compensation to the families of those killed and people injured, with details of the programme not yet announced.

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