Gas-filled balloons explode during a campaign rally Friday in the central Republic Square in Yerevan, Armenia. Coming two days before parliamentary elections, the explosion injured at least 144 people, a local emergency official was quoted as saying by the Interfax news agency. Photo: REUTERS

An estimated 144 people were injured when a cluster of balloons exploded at a political rally in the Armenian capital of Yerevan on Friday. The explosion was caused by a cigarette that was lit near the balloons, according to the Associated Press.

The balloons -- suspected of being filled not with helium but with hydrogen -- were going to be flown at a Republican Party rally, an event expected to draw tens of thousands of people. When a smoker lit a cigarette  too close to the balloons, they went up in flames, burning more than 100 people.

The explosion in Yerevan on Friday came two days before parliamentary elections.  

I heard an explosion and saw flames rising high, a woman named Susan told the Daily Mail. People rushed away from the square, and I saw a man with a burnt face and a girl whose back was on fire.

However, no one in the crowd suffered life-threatening injuries, according to Health Minister Artyom Pushkian.

Armenian President Serge Sarkisian gave a speech to the crowd despite the explosion.

This isn't the first time that there has been panic at an Armenian political event. The Daily Mail reported that Armenia's 2008 presidential election saw violence break out between police and protesters.


The crowd scatters after the explosion of gas-filled balloons during the campaign rally. Photo: REUTERS