Tuesday 18 December 2018

Protest leader warns Armenian government not to deploy troops

Nikol Pashinian said if ministers send the armed forces to the capital to quell protests ‘all the soldiers will come to us and join us’.

Protesters carry an Armenian flag (AP)
Protesters carry an Armenian flag (AP)

By David Keyton and Yuras Karmanau

The opposition leader spearheading weeks of protests in Armenia has warned the government not to deploy troops as his supporters blocked roads, cut access to the country’s main airport and occupied at least one municipal building.

Nikol Pashinian said parliament’s rejection of his bid to lead the country had only galvanised the opposition, and that if the government brings troops to the capital Yerevan to quell protests, “all the soldiers will come to us and join us”.

Mr Pashian said: “Today, our actions are much bigger and there is a big crowd reaction from society and from the people.”

But he emphasised that Armenia’s political crisis cannot be resolved by force.

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Supporters of opposition lawmaker Nikol Pashinian wave an Armenian flag (AP)

Protesters occupied the city hall in Armenia’s second-largest city, Gyumri, and media reports said protesters made some significant highways in the countryside impassable.

The State Revenue Committee warned that the blockages could “present a serious blow to Armenia’s food security” and called on protesters not to interfere with food deliveries.

Some train services were suspended, and demonstrators are converging in the evening on Yerevan’s central Republic Square, where nightly demonstrations over the past three weeks have attracted crowds of tens of thousands.

The protests have plunged the country into political turmoil and led to the resignation of prime minister Serzh Sargsyan just days after his appointment.

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Political turmoil has gripped Armenia since mid-April (AP)

Mr Sargsyan had led the country as president for 10 years, but stepped down because of term limits. Soon afterwards, parliament named him prime minister under a new government structure that gave the post greater powers.

Protesters claimed the move effectively allowed him to remain the country’s leader indefinitely.

Mr Pashinian, an opposition MP who has led the protests, demanded to be named prime minister, but the parliament, where Mr Sargsyan’s Republican Party has the majority, rejected his bid on Tuesday.

Mr Pashinian said that move effectively was suicidal for the party.

The parliament will hold another vote on naming a prime minister next Tuesday. It was not immediately clear if the ruling party would put forth a candidate. Mr Pashinian was the only candidate in the first vote. The ruling party said it would not nominate its own candidate in order to avoid inflaming tensions.

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Protesters in Republic Square in Yereva (AP)

Although the vote against Mr Pashinian in the parliament dashed the opposition’s hopes for a quick resolution of the tensions, there were no immediate signs that tempers would boil over into clashes. Mr Pashinian insisted that the demonstrations would continue to be peaceful.

He said: “Police and security services are neutral and if they (government) will bring for example the army to Yerevan, all soldiers will come to us and they will join us. And there is no way for any solution by force.”

The national railway operator, meanwhile, announced that it was suspending passenger service for the capital’s suburban area because of protesters blocking tracks.

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Supporters of opposition leader Nikol Pashinian dance in Republic Square (AP)

About 300 demonstrators used cars to block the road to Armenia’s main international airport, forcing many travellers to take long walks hauling their luggage to catch flights.

The demonstrators on Republic Square have been determined but appeared largely cheerful. Scores of protesters carried a mock coffin and then smashed it to the ground Wednesday, symbolising what they believe is the death of Armenia’s ruling party.

Mr Pashinian said that by rejecting his bid to become prime minister, the ruling party had dealt itself a fatal blow.

“I think that the Republican Party yesterday have made a suicide pact, as a party, as a whole,” he said.

Acts of disobedience took place elsewhere in the small former Soviet republic on Wednesday, including protesters occupying the mayor’s office in Gyumri.

Press Association

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