Serzh Sargsyan Resigns as Armenia's PM After Protests
Armenia’s prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, has said he will resign after days of large street protests against him, according to a statement posted on his website.
“The street movement is against my tenure. I am fulfilling your demand,” the statement said.
Hundreds of uniformed soldiers had joined anti-government demonstrators earlier on Monday on the 11th consecutive day of protests over an alleged power grab by Sargsyan.
Prior to Sargsyan’s resignation, and apparently yielding to opposition pressure, police released Nikol Pashinyan, a protest leader and opposition MP who had been arrested alongside hundreds of demonstrators on Sunday in an attempt to crush the demonstrations. Until his release, Pashinyan’s whereabouts had been unknown.
“Nikol! Nikol!” chanted protesters draped in Armenian flags as they marched in the country’s capital, Yerevan. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in the city’s Republic Square at the weekend in one of the country’s largest demonstrations in years.
“This is the last time I will speak to you as the head of the government,” Sargsyan’s statement said. “Nikol Pashinyan was right. I was wrong.”
The demonstrations were sparked by Sargsyan’s decision to take on the post of prime minister after serving for more than a decade as the former Soviet country’s president, provoking anger among opposition parties and other protest groups over his domination of Armenia’s political scene.
The decision came as his second term as president ended, but shortly after the constitution was amended to give more power to the prime minister and transform the presidency into a ceremonial role.
Political opponents and civil society activists cried foul. “I came here to discuss your resignation,” Pashinyan told Sargsyan shortly before negotiations broke down on Sunday. Pashinyan was arrested shortly afterwards.
The protests have simmered in Armenia for more than a week. Defying threats from police to stay away, striking students on Monday blocked streets in Yerevan, with dozens of soldiers pouring out of their barracks to join demonstrators, according to videos posted on social media. The soldiers appeared to be unarmed.
The defence minister warned that Armenia’s foe Azerbaijan was benefiting from the unrest. “The enemy is looking at events in our country. Instability inside our country opens a road for them to take action. We need to tell society about this,” Vigen Sarkisian said. He said the army could only become involved if a state of emergency was declared, which he hoped would not happen “for years to come”.
A shrewd former military officer, Sargsyan was first elected as president of the impoverished Moscow-allied country in 2008. After that poll, 10 people died in clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate. He was re-elected in 2013, with his second and final term ending on 9 April./ The Guardian
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