Armenian prime minister announces resignation to trigger early elections

Nikol Pashinyan will remain in office until the vote is over

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Armenia's embattled Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has said he will resign in April to bring on early elections.

He will stay on as acting prime minister until the parliamentary election is over, he said during a visit to the country's north-west.

The decision was made as part of an effort to curb the political crisis that has gripped the Caucasus country since it lost a war with Azerbaijan over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region.

Mr Pashinyan has faced months of protests calling for his removal after Armenia’s defeat.

"I will resign in April. I will resign not to resign, but in order for early elections to take place," Mr Pashinyan said in a video of the visit published on his Facebook page.

"I will continue to serve as interim prime minister," he added.

He did not give a specific date for stepping down.

The prime minister earlier this month announced snap parliamentary polls planned for June 20 that he said were "the best way out of the current internal political situation".

Under Armenian law, such elections can be held after a prime minister resigns and the parliament twice fails to choose a replacement.

During a speech in the village of Aragats on Sunday, Mr Pashinyan said: "You have to evaluate the past and make a decision about the future."

Mr Pashinyan told the audience that if he is re-elected he will try to serve the Armenian public "much better than before".

If his party's re-election bid is unsuccessful, he said, "we will humbly hand over power to whomever you choose".

Mr Pashinyan has been under pressure to step down after agreeing to the ceasefire in November with Azerbaijan, which many in Armenia saw as a national humiliation.

Under the deal, Mr Pashinyan ceded parts of Nagorno-Karabakh and large parts of adjacent Armenian-controlled territory.

He has defended the move as the only way to have prevented Azerbaijan from taking the entire region.

Russian peacekeepers were sent to the territory as part of the deal.

Nagorno-Karabakh is a disputed region within Azerbaijan that Armenian-backed separatists controlled for more than 25 years.

Mr Pashinyan has retained significant public backing despite the defeat in Nagorno-Karabakh, with thousands rallying in his support to counter the opposition-led pressure for his resignation.

Both anti-government protesters and Mr Pashinyan's supporters have regularly taken to the streets in the months since.

Last month, Mr Pashinyan fired the country's most senior military official, accusing the army chief of staging a coup after he urged the prime minister to resign.

The spat sparked massive demonstrations, with Mr Pashinyan's supporters and his opponents flooding on to the streets of the capital.

In an effort to ease weeks of tensions that led to his critics setting up barricades and camping outside government buildings, the prime minister called the snap election.

He said the decision was taken after talks with members of the opposition and President Armen Sarkissian, who has also asked for Mr Pashinyan to resign.