Armenian opposition blockades parliament to demand PM quits

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PHOTOLURE

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 – Thousands of opposition supporters blockaded the Armenian parliament building on Tuesday to press a demand for the country's prime minister to step down.

Nikol Pashinyan has rejected the opposition’s pressure to resign over a November peace deal that ended six weeks of fierce fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, in which Azerbaijan routed the Armenian forces.

The political tensions escalated 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.

On Tuesday, the opposition sought to build pressure on Pashinyan by urging its supporters to blockade the parliament. Thousands of opposition demonstrators surrounded the parliament building and engaged in occasional scuffles with police.

Vazgen Manukyan, a veteran politician whom the opposition named as a prospective caretaker prime minister, predicted that the military won't accept Pashinyan's order to dismiss the General Staff chief.

“The army will not step back because it's not just one man's problem,” he said.

As part of maneuvering to defuse the political crisis, Pashinyan offered to hold an early parliamentary vote later this year, but rejected the opposition’s demand to step down before the vote.

Artur Vanetsyan, the former head of the National Security Service who leads the Homeland opposition party, emphasized that “we believe that that the elections mustn't be held under Nikol Pashinyan's rule.”