Demonstrators on December 8

Opposition Protests Resume as Pashinyan Ignores Ultimatum to Resign

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YEREVAN (RFE/RL) — A coalition of 16 Armenian opposition parties urged supporters to again take to the streets after Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan ignored their ultimatum to resign and pave the way for snap parliamentary elections on December 8.

The parties making up a “homeland salvation front” had issued the ultimatum as they rallied thousands of supporters in Yerevan on Friday, December 4. They had given Pashinyan until December 8 at noon to step down or face a nationwide campaign of “civil disobedience” over his handling of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh that resulted in heavy Armenian casualties and territorial losses.

The prime minister has continued to reject these demands through his aides and political allies. They have said that he is determined to stick to his six-month plan to “restore stability” in Armenia.

“As you can see, Nikol Pashinyan has not tendered his resignation,” Ishkhan Saghatelyan, a leader of the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), said in a video address to opposition supporters. “Therefore, from now on, until 5 p.m., Armenia’s citizens have a legitimate right to take peaceful civil disobedience actions to protest and make their demands heard.”

Saghatelian, whose party is a key driving force behind the protests, urged Armenian security forces not to “execute Nikol Pashinyan’s illegal orders and use force against the people.”

“Nikol, you will have to go in any case. Leave without upheavals … Your departure is vital for our people and state,” he said.

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Shortly afterwards, groups of opposition activists chanting “Nikol traitor!” and “Armenia without Nikol!” began blocking streets in various parts of Yerevan. Riot police intervened to unblock them and try to prevent further traffic disruptions.

They scuffled with protesters at some street intersections. Dozens of protesters were detained on the spot.

A small group of opposition activists picketed the National Security Service headquarters in the Armenian capital to condemn what they call politically motivated criminal investigations targeting opposition figures.

Other protesters paralyzed the work of Yerevan’s metro system for more than an hour.

Similar protests were reported in Gyumri, Vanadzor and several other Armenian cities.

Alen Simonyan, a deputy parliament speaker and leading member of Pashinyan’s My Step bloc, denounced the protests as a coup attempt by the country’s former rulers keen to return to power.

Simonyan also scoffed at opposition calls for the fresh elections to be held within a year. “Why one year later? Let’s hold the elections now,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service.

Asked why the ruling political team is not calling such a vote, Simonyan said: “Because there is no decision regarding it. I personally do not exclude it.”

President Armen Sarkissian, the Armenian Apostolic Church and a growing number of public figures have also called for the formation of an interim government and conduct of fresh elections. Sarkissian insisted late last week that Armenia is in a “deep crisis.”

Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian added his voice to calls for Pashinyan’s resignation while condemning what he called opposition threats of a violent overthrow of Armenia’s government.

In a weekend article posted on ilur.am, Ter-Petrosian said that both Pashinyan and opposition groups holding anti-government protests are putting the country at risk of “civil war” with their radical stances.

Manukyan, whom the opposition forces want to take over as a caretaker prime minister, said Pashinyan should “realize that the sooner he willingly resigns the better it will be for him.” “If this movement does not win, furious people will rip him apart,” he warned before thousands of opposition supporters marched to the prime minister’s residence guarded by security forces.

Ter-Petrosian said Manukyan’s speech amounted to a threat of violent regime change. He claimed that the radical opposition also demonstrated its “readiness for violence” by rallying supporters outside the government compound where Pashinyan lives with his family.

The 75-year-old, who served as Armenia’s first president from 1991-1998, also hit out at Pashinyan, saying that the latter is ready for “any confrontation” to cling to power in the wake of the war in Nagorno-Karabakh stopped by a Russian-brokered ceasefire on November 10.

“Given the shameful and humiliating defeat inflicted on Armenia and Artsakh, Pashinyan’s regime must definitely and immediately resign,” he said. “Not through internal clashes but a solely constitutional path … I am therefore calling on the people not to participate in mass unrest provoked by both the current government and the opposition.”

Catholicos of All Armenians Karekin II, the supreme head of the Armenian Apostolic Church, on December 8 added his voice to mounting calls for Pashinyan’s resignation and snap parliamentary elections.

In a televised address to the nation, he said Pashinyan lacks popular trust after the “disastrous” war in Nagorno-Karabakh and should step down to prevent violent unrest and end what he called a “deep political crisis” in Armenia. He said he made this clear at a face-to-face meeting with the embattled premier.

Karekin also called on the Armenian parliament dominated by Pashinyan’s allies to “elect a new prime minister and form an interim government of national unity.”

“Only a government trusted by the public and made up of professionals can settle issues facing our people, restore national unity and solidarity, and organize pre-term parliamentary elections representing an undisputed necessity,” he said.

 

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