Armenian PM Nikol Pashinyan under pressure to quit after 200 protesters arrested

Prime minister has faced criticism for his handling of the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Azerbaijan

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Police in Armenia detained more than 200 anti-government protesters on Tuesday as opposition parties called on Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to quit over his handling of a territorial dispute with Azerbaijan.

Protests erupted in Yerevan, the capital, on Sunday, after opponents of Mr Pashinyan demanded his resignation.

They have accused him of plotting to cede to Azerbaijan the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, over which the countries went to war in 2020.

Demonstrations were held on Monday, and on Tuesday police cracked down on protesters who blocked traffic in central Yerevan.

The interior ministry said “206 demonstrators were detained” in Yerevan and provincial cities.

The protests highlight bitterness over Mr Pashinyan’s leadership since the six-week war in 2020 that killed more than 6,500 people before ending with a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreement.

Armenia and Azerbaijan have been locked in a decades-long dispute over Karabakh, Azerbaijan’s Armenian-populated region.

On Saturday, Armenia’s security service warned of “a real threat of turmoil in the country”.

The parliament speaker played down the risk of instability.

“There is no political crisis in Armenia,” said Alen Simonyan, an ally of Mr Pashinyan.

“Political forces, which lost parliamentary elections in 2021, are aggressively trying to mount a wave of protests, but our citizens have already made their choice and will stay away from their attempts,” he told a news conference Tuesday.

Opposition leader and parliament vice speaker Ishkhan Saghatelyan said: “Pashinyan is a traitor and permanent street protests, which are mounting, will force him to resign.”

He called for a protest rally later Tuesday in Yerevan’s central Square of France, where thousands rallied against Pashinyan on Sunday and Monday.

“Nikol must go – he will go – because he is a symbol of defeat and Armenia has no future with such a leader,” said one protester, 57-year-old blacksmith Sergei Hovhannisyan.

“He is ready to give away Karabakh for which we have shed our blood,” he told AFP.

Opposition parties accuse Pashinyan of plans to give away all of Karabakh to Azerbaijan after he told lawmakers last month that the “international community calls on Armenia to scale down demands on Karabakh”.

Under the Moscow-brokered deal, Armenia ceded parts of the territory it had controlled for decades, and Russia sent 2,000 peacekeepers to oversee the truce.

The pact was seen in Armenia as a national humiliation and sparked weeks of anti-government protests, leading Pashinyan to call snap parliamentary polls which his party, Civil Contract, won last September.

Ethnic Armenian separatists in Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. About 30,000 people were killed in the ensuing conflicts.

Updated: May 03, 2022, 6:42 PM