Opposition in Armenia maintains blockade of parliament

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Police wearing face masks to protect against coronavirus, block opposition demonstrators during a rally to pressure Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to resign in Yerevan, Armenia, Tuesday, March 9, 2021. Thousands of opposition supporters blockaded the Armenian parliament building and engaged in occasional scuffles with police on Tuesday to press a demand for the country's prime minister to step down. (Stepan Poghosyan/PHOTOLURE via AP)

YEREVAN – Hundreds of opposition supporters maintained the blockade of the Armenian parliament for a second straight day Wednesday demanding the resignation of the country’s embattled prime minister.

Nikol Pashinyan has rejected the opposition’s pressure to step down over a November peace deal that ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh by allowing Azerbaijan to reclaim control over lands that had been held by Armenian forces for decades.

Political tensions spiked last month when the military’s General Staff demanded Pashinyan’s resignation, and he responded by firing the chief of the General Staff, Col. Gen. Onik Gasparyan. Pashinyan on Wednesday named a successor to Gasparyan and met with the top military brass.

Gasparyan denounced his ouster as unconstitutional and reaffirmed the call for the prime minister's resignation.

Another senior officer, Maj. Gen. Grigory Khachaturov, who is the commander of the 3rd Army Corps, backed Gasparyan in a strongly-worded statement Wednesday, saying that “every day and hour Pashinyan remains on the job of prime minister erodes Armenia's security and raises doubts about its future.”

As part of efforts to raise pressure on Pashinyan, opposition supporters surrounded the parliament building on Tuesday. Hundreds of demonstrators maintained the blockade on Wednesday amid a heavy police presence.

They later expanded their action to block a nearby street leading to Pashinyan's residence.

Speaking at the opposition rally, one of the protest leaders, Ishkhan Saghatelyan, accused the government of violating the constitution, charging that it has given people the right to rebel against it.