Armenian protest leader says only ready to discuss PM’s ‘departure’

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in Armenia in recent days

Yerevan (AFP) – Armenia’s political crisis deepened Saturday as protest leader Nikol Pashinyan said he was only prepared to discuss the exit of the country’s newly elected prime minister, former president Serzh Sarkisian.

“We are only ready to discuss the conditions of his departure,” news agencies quoted Pashinyan as saying after Sarkisian called on the opposition to enter into talks with authorities. 

“This won’t be a dialogue, as I already said, we do not want vendetta and we wish to secure the transfer of power to the people while avoiding shock as much as possible,” Pashinyan was quoted as saying. 

The opposition lawmaker has led mass protests against Sarkisian’s rule that started on April 13 in the capital Yerevan. 

Earlier on Saturday, Sarkisian sought a “political dialogue” with the protest leader. 

“I am deeply concerned about the unfolding internal political events. In order to avoid irreversible consequences, I call on deputy Nikol Pashinyan to sit at the table of political dialogue and negotiation,” the 63-year-old leader said in a statement. 

Opposition supporters denounce Sarkisian’s efforts to remain in power as prime minister after a decade serving as president.

At a 30,000 strong rally in Yerevan on Friday evening, Pashinyan laid out his demands for the authorities. 

“First, Sarkisian resigns. Second, parliament elects a new prime minister that represents the people. Third, it forms a temporary government. Fourth, they schedule parliamentary elections. We will enter negotiations around these demands,” he said, calling Sarkisian a “political corpse”.

“The whole world can see this is a people’s velvet revolution, which very soon will be victorious,” Pashinyan told the rally.

Demonstrators waved national flags and held up placards reading “Sarkisian is a dictator” as protests in the impoverished former Soviet country continued. 

– Protests enter ninth day –

An AFP journalist reported opposition supporters began blocking roads on Saturday morning ahead of planned rallies in several districts of Yerevan. At least 11 people were detained as of Saturday morning, more than 230 people were arrested on Friday.

Rallies are planned in Yerevan on Saturday evening, as well as in other cities such as Gyumri, Ararat and Artashat.

Protesters have been attempting to block daytime road traffic ahead of evening rallies over the past week. 

“I believe we will win this time because when the youth is on the street the police can do nothing,” said Hovik Haranyan, a 25-year-old protester blocking traffic, told AFP on Saturday.

“Our generation has the right to live in a functioning country,” he added.

Opposition supporters have criticised the 63-year-old leader over poverty, corruption and the influence of powerful oligarchs.

A former military officer, Serzh 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 Sarkisian as prime minister last week after he served a decade as president from 2008.

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.