Yerevan (AFP) – Armenia’s prime minister and ex-president Serzh Sarkisian walked out of a televised meeting Sunday with anti-government protest leader Nikol Pashinyan shortly after it began, denouncing the opposition’s “blackmail”.
“I came here to discuss your resignation,” Pashinyan, the leader of the opposition Civil Contract party, had told the prime minister in front of the cameras.
“This is not a dialogue, this is blackmail, I only can advise you to return to a legal framework… otherwise you will bear the responsibility,” Sarkisian replied.
“You don’t understand the situation in Armenia. The power is now in people’s hands,” said Pashinyan.
“A party that scored eight percent in (parliamentary) elections can’t speak on behalf of the people,” Sarkisian said before walking out of the meeting room in Yerevan’s Marriott hotel.
Pashinyan then vowed to “step up pressure” on Sarkisian to force him to resign.
Heeding a call from Pashinyan, protesters had held rallies over the last 10 days to denounce Sarkisian’s shift to a premier’s post after a decade serving as president.
Tens of thousands of people flocked to central Yerevan’s Republic Square on Saturday to protest against Sarkisian’s rule.
Opposition supporters have criticised the 63-year-old leader over poverty, corruption and the influence of powerful oligarchs.
A former military officer, Sarkisian has been in charge of the landlocked South Caucasus nation of 2.9 million people for a decade.
Under a new parliamentary system of government, lawmakers elected him as prime minister last week.
Constitutional amendments approved in 2015 have transferred power from the presidency to the premier.
After he was first elected in 2008, 10 people died and hundreds were injured in bloody clashes between police and supporters of the defeated opposition candidate.