GYUMRI, Armenia (AP) — The lawmaker behind the protests that forced Armenia’s longtime leader to resign took his campaign to the country’s second-largest city Friday, aiming to marshal nationwide support ahead of a crucial vote in parliament.
More than 10,000 people gathered in Gyumri for an evening rally with opposition leader Nikol Pashinian held hours after his planned talks with Armenia’s acting prime minister were called off.
Pashinian, a newspaper editor and member of the Armenian National Assembly, and Acting Prime Minister Karen Karapetian were to have met at noon to discuss the political crisis that has gripped the landlocked former Soviet nation. Karapetian’s office announced Friday morning that it canceled the talks because Pashinian was “dictating the agenda.”
In Gyumri, Pashinian remained firm in his demand that he be named head of government when the parliament meets Tuesday.
“There is one road: choose me as the premier of Armenia, as the candidate of you, of the people,” he said at the rally. “Our de-facto victory should be settled de-jure on May 1 in the walls of parliament.”
Pashinian’s protest movement holds just a fraction of seats in parliament, while Karapetian’s party has a majority.
Karapetian was Armenia’s prime minister until his ally, President Serzh Sargsyan, had to step down because of term limits and parliament voted him in as prime minister.
Sargsyan stepped down Monday after six days in his new post following more than a week of anti-government protests triggered by what the ex-president’s critics saw as a brazen move to extend his rule.
The opposition wants a transfer of power that would ensure that Sargsyan’s allies would not be part of the new government so he could not pull the strings behind the scenes.
Pashinian reacted to the breakdown Friday’s talks by telling reporters that his protest movement has “the key mandate — that of the Armenian people. The parliament has to accept people’s will.”
Despite winning two landslide presidential victories before becoming prime minister, Sargsyan was unpopular because of the perceived nepotism and corruption of his inner circle. The protests over his stepping into the prime minister’s seat after the government was rearranged to reduce the power of the presidency represent the deep frustration with his rule.
Several hundred people rallied in the center of the capital, Yerevan, on Friday morning to show their support for the opposition.
“We’re not going to go and we’ll continue to protest until this government goes,” school teacher Armen Zarubyan, 42, said. “Authorities couldn’t care less for people’s opinion, but we have already showed our strength.”
Yerevan-based political analyst Agaron Adibekyan told The Associated Press that Karapetian’s refusal to negotiate shows that the current regime is confident of its ability to stay in power.
“Authorities decided to drag their feet so the opposition will get tired and the protests die down,” he said. “It’s the opposition that needs these talks. Authorities are controlling the country and have a majority in the parliament.”
Nataliya Vasilyeva and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.