Sunday 23 September 2018

Armenian premier steps down after 11 days of protests

People celebrate Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation in downtown Yerevan yesterday. Photo: Getty
People celebrate Armenian Prime Minister Serzh Sargsyan’s resignation in downtown Yerevan yesterday. Photo: Getty

Dean Grey

Armenia's long-time leader Serzh Sargsyan has resigned after 11 days of protests against his attempt to remain in power as prime minister.

"The movement of the street is against my office. I'm fulfilling your demands," Mr Sargsyan said in a statement.

The unexpected announcement came after a group of soldiers joined demonstrations, which had spread beyond the capital Yerevan following mass arrests on Sunday.

Opposition leader and member of parliament Nikol Pashinyan was released from custody and joined protesters in celebrating, his hand still bandaged from a march on the legislature last week.

Mr Sargsyan, who led the country for a decade as president, was confirmed as prime minister last Tuesday, reversing his promise not to take the post.

His appointment, which followed a constitutional reform to shift power to that office, was seen by many as an attempt to remain ruler for life, like the heads of several other former Soviet republics.

Mr Sargsyan's resignation will worry the Kremlin and test the current geopolitical balance in the Caucasus region, a volatile area between Russia, Turkey and Iran.

He has been close to Vladimir Putin, relying on his military backing - Russia has an army base in Armenia - to keep hostile neighbour Azerbaijan from invading the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

The defence ministry of Azerbaijan, an ally of Turkey, yesterday denied reports that it had moved military equipment toward Nagorno-Karabakh, where several hundred were killed in fighting in 2016.

Mr Sargsyan's deputy Karen Karapetyan, who previously worked for the Russian state gas giant Gazprom, has been appointed acting prime minister.

Armenians cheered, waved flags and honked car horns on the streets of the capital Yerevan yesterday.

People were "screaming and yelling with joy" at Mr Sargsyan's departure, activist Maria Karapetyan told 'The Daily Telegraph' from outside a Yerevan holding centre.

The opposition would now push for the dissolution of the national assembly and new parliamentary elections, she added.

"I want a non-violent society, I want justice for all and fair elections," Mr Karapetyan said.

Earlier this month, protesters declared a Czech-style 'velvet revolution' and began shutting down thoroughfares and blocking government buildings in the capital.

More than 300 people were arrested in Yerevan on Sunday.

Irish Independent

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